Monday, August 13, 2012
Border control is an interesting experience. This is my first time in a long time crossing an international border by anything other than airplane. It's cool that it's almost a continental border. As I type, a Bulgarian official is going over our bus for illegal goods. I don't know what it is illegal to bring into Bulgaria, but judging from the other people on the bus, I'd guess there is some rule against cigarettes. One woman ran into the duty free shop at the Turkish border and bought several cases which she passed out among the passengers who promptly stuffed them down their shirts, pants, bras, bags and anywhere else they could find. I can't believe that Bulgaria doesn't have cigarettes, but I guess they might simply be cheaper in Turkey.
Anyway from all that above information, you've probably inferred that my Turkish adventure is over and I'm off to another new place. You'd be correct. That new place is Romania, where I'll hunt down the tomb of Dracula and a small waterfall that is probably very inconsequential but that I want to see anyway.
But first, I want to give you my general impressions of Turkey and the Turkish. I didn't enjoy the day by day account in Egypt. Turkey impressed me from the very first moment by it's efficiency and it's transportation. I got through the airport security and out the door at top speed and a metro with clear, easy-to-understand maps helped me find my way from the airport to my final destination. I took the metro to the main coach station where very helpful people made getting my ticket out of Istanbul and into the countryside a breeze despite my complete lack of Turkish. The buses that took me around the country were beautiful, one of them even had WiFi. And when I got back to Istanbul and saw the full extent of the public transit system, I was really astonished. It's an ancient city dating back to the B.C.s and still they've got public transportation which transverses the entire city. The combination of buses, metros, trams, old-time tunnel trains, a cable car and a ferry network make the most distant parts of the city easily accessible. And the whole system is interconnected. The Istanbul Kart allows you to load money which can be used to pay for a ride on any of the different transportation.
Okay, so that is my raving endorsement of the public transit in Istanbul, but I'd also like to praise the amazing nature in the parts of the countryside that I visited. I went to Cappadocia and to Pamakkale both of which are unique and fascinating natural formations. You really have to see them for yourself, but as a summary, Cappadocia is an area in Turkey filled with natural caves and volcanic rock formations which were turned into entire cities inside of mountains and hills. Just walking around the area you'll see hundred/thousands of homes and churches made out of the rock. I can't describe it properly, but it's amazing. The hiking is wonderful as well, especially since you could always just happen upon something that you've never seen before and probably won't see again outside of the region. I'll put up some pictures, but they won't do it justice. I didn't spend enough time here, so if anyone wants to see for themselves, spend at least a week there and take me with you.
Pamakkale is a shorter trip, but more interesting in a way. Cappadocia was some special rock formations that people in the 11th century or so took advantage of to make hidden homes. It was nature and man combined that made the wonders of Cappadocia. Pamakkale is all natural. It's been “preserved” now and so isn't really all natural anymore, but still it was a beautiful day trip. The mineral water in the area mixed with the minerals in the rock and somehow (I never could understand the explanation) made beautiful white pools which cascade down the hill. The sight is astounding, but my favorite part was that the water wasn't off-limits. Swimming is completely allowed in the open pools (some are protected). Most of the pools were crazy full of tourists, but if you walk all around the Roman ruins (yes, there are also roman ruins) then you might find the little solitary pool where me and my Brazilan friend enjoyed a private swim. No one was swimming there, so I think everyone assumed that you weren't allowed to swim there. A quick question to the gardener cleared up that confusion and we jumped in. The water was wonderfully warm and a beautiful sky blue. The bottom of the pool is coated in a strange white powder which I assume has something to do with the science of how the pools are made. If you're into ruins, the Roman theatre in Pamakkale was nice, but I admit that I only went for the water.