Saturday, January 27, 2007


With the weather in Georgia turning everything into mud and slush it seemed like a good time to high tail it out of there. Also, school was out for a few weeks so there wasn’t much going on besides power outages, pig slaughters, idle kids with firecrackers and occasional dog fights and car crashes.

So six fellow volunteers and I headed to Turkey My crew entailed Paige and the five volunteers from my training village: Nicholas, Heidi, Jen and Van. A snowstorm nearly kept us from reaching the border, but the bus pushed on through. Our cab driver wasn’t quite a skilled and it didn’t take him long to lose control of the car, turn 180 degrees and cross the median, nearly plowing into oncoming traffic, before parking the thing in a snow bank on the other side of the road. Thanks ass*$&%. You’re a champ!

Funny thing is after seven months in Georgia this didn’t even increase our heart rate and we merrily hopped out of the cab and helped push it back on the road. We eventually crossed the border and took various transport to Trabzon, a city in eastern Turkey on the Black Sea. Entering Turkey after 7 months in Georgia is kind of like stepping out of the tool shed and into the manor. Head scarves suddenly appear, the building get more modern, and he number of drunk men decreases dramatically. The peril of Turkish roads that I recall from visiting seven years ago has given way to something modern and amazing. The ride was incredible, especially after our near death experience.

Trabzon proved to be a fairly pretty city, with it’s numerous minarets rising above the snow covered roofs of the city. We slept in a college dormitory for a low price thanks to a kindly student who saw us standing on a corner looking stupid.

The next morning we flew to Izmir in western Turkey and stayed at a hostel in Selcuk, walking distance from the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus. See below.

We experienced the full court press of Turkish “hospitality” as the hostel staff fell over themselves in an effort to accompany us every time we left the building, intent on leading us to cafes and shops they had some sort of connection to. Clearly they got some kind of commission for this and it took all our strength to keep them at bay. But their added pressure (and surcharge for heat) didn’t spoil what is really an amazing place. My dad and I visited Ephesus seven years ago and I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen it once let alone twice.

After two days here we headed for Istanbul. We did not purchase our bus tickets from the man who followed me around as I compared prices, calling me stupid for not buying a ticket from him and threatening to kill me if I liked President Bush.

We entered Istanbul from the east, crossing the bridge that spans from Asia to Europe, which is sort of cool. Since I was in Istanbul last all the street cats have grown fat and friendly and the carpet shop owners have toned down their overzealous sales pitch. Seriously, the street cat thing was striking. They were so fat! Last I was here they were scrawny and scab covered. This time the shop owners had stopped kicking them and instead fed them the entrails of the sheep they slaughtered (it was a Muslim holiday celebrating Abrahams near sacrifice of his son).

But the rug shop owners weren’t totally silent and they had some new tricks to entice customers into their shops. The worst attempt to attract a customer was directed to Heidi: “Excuse me miss, you dropped something... your smile.” For some reason that was hilarious to me and I turned and laughed at him like a total jerk. I couldn’t help it.

Part of the wonder of Istanbul was the shear contrast with Georgia. For instance, while Georgians waiters ignore you and often look pained at the smallest inconvenience, such as entering the restaurant, Turkish waiters in Istanbul are completely opposite. Instead of glaring at you for ordering they race out of their restaurant to read you everything on the menu in an attempt to draw you in. Well, pick your poison I guess. However, after seven months of eating Georgian food almost exclusively we were ready for a change of cuisine and the Turkish waiters could have been unwashed hippies for all we cared so long as they served us something different.

The first night in Istanbul we passed on Turkish food though since we stumbled upon the Mexican food chain El Torrito. We shelled out the cash to taste guacamole, something we’ve been talking about endlessly almost since the moment our plane touched down in Georgia.

For New Years, most everyone opted to go to a crowded public square where a few Georgian Peace Corps volunteers were groped by a perverted mob last year. Paige and I chickened out and retreated to our hotel’s roof and attempted to drink the most vile and overpriced champagne ever made. I talked the store clerk down to half the price but still spent $15 on something that wasn’t fit for pig slop. Okay, I guess that’s not really that expensive but it was worth no more than 15 cents. I’m not much of a haggler. We left the unfinished bottle in front of the crappiest hostel in hopes that some derelict backpacker would think it was some kind of prize. No such luck.

Much of our time in Istanbul was spent trying to arrange transport to Greece and confirm a hotel reservation, but we still got to see much of the city and I was able to take some photos from the roof of the hotel my dad and I stayed in when we were here before. The view didn’t quite compare to when we stayed there as it was a dreary winter day instead of a beautiful summer evening, but the panoramic view of the water and the mosques rising up on the hill was still impressive.

In addition the mosques and the view of the water, the other highlight of Istanbul was Starbucks. I openly admit to being a typical Seattle coffee snob and I would never go to Starbucks back home unless there was simply no alternative. However, having been without filtered coffee for seven months and having recently had a double tall latte at Starbucks I now take back everything bad I ever said about the evil corporation. If I had the power I would put them on every street corner in the entire world. I want to commend Howard Schulz for bringing his brand of coffee to the rest of the world, but don’t give up now Mr. Shulz! Georgia awaits your glory! And right now I frankly don’t care if he sold my beloved Seattle Supersonics to some jerk who’s going to move them to Oklahoma. He knows how to brew coffee and steam milk. That man deserves a hug and an apology from me.


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