A Travellerspoint blog

Midnight Express

A Bulgarian border crossing

overcast 13 °C

The original "plan" was to meet up with my friend Ahmet in Istanbul after the sailing/Ephesus tour, however he's in London on business, so we'll have to defer the meeting for some other time. We've decided to leave the tourism of Turkey behind and continue the journey through Eastern Europe which begins in Bulgaria. We have EU rail passes to get from Bulgaria to Germany but we need to get to Bulgaria first. The standard options are plane, train and bus. Flying in would probably be too expensive for the average budget traveler and we read that taking the train from Turkey to Bulgaria would be slow and sketchy in parts. Not especially wanting to deal with sketchy or slow, it seemed that the bus is the way to do it. So without knowing anything of Bulgaria, we booked an overnight bus to Sophia which is the capital of the Republic of Bulgaria. The bus ride was mostly uneventful with the exception of the Turkey - Bulgaria border crossing.

Leaving Turkey was pretty easy. It was around 1:00am when we got to the border and A Turkish border control person came aboard the bus and took everyone's passport. He mumbled something like "Kanada" as he read the passport and took it from me. A short while later one of the two bus drivers was handing the passports back and we moved on. We moved on about a few hundred meters and stopped at some large dimly lit, nondescript building and everyone started to get out. I thought this was part of the border control so I stepped off the bus with passport in hand and asked the driver what to do. He said it was a smoke break so I got back on the bus. A little while later I realized that it was a duty-free shop that we were in front of when I saw most of the passengers and the second bus driver coming back with bags filled with cartons of cigarettes. While all this was happening, the first bus driver was taking out black plastic bags from a compartment and getting them ready for something. We sat around waiting for a about another 20 minutes while the two bus drivers talked quickly in Turkish and started tearing apart the cigarette cartons and stashing them all over the bus. The smokes went under the stairs, in the top luggage rack and covered with blankets, behind empty seats and basically anywhere else they could stash them. All this happened while Arwyn and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows. When the drivers had finished stashing the smokes, we moved on towards the Bulgarian border entry. This part took a long time as we were about 8 busses in line and it seemed like every car and bus was being searched. The first bus driver headed off with another passenger towards some building off the the left which had a sign that might have said traffic control or something like that. Its tough to tell because the Bulgarian language is part of the Slavic linguistic group and it has letters much like Russian. Anyways, these two took off and we never saw the passenger again. (There might have been an issue with his passport or something).

Eventually we piled off the bus and we started to go through the border crossing. Once we all passed through we stood around waiting for the bus to come through and get searched. This appeared to happen in two stages. First, a border crossing guard came on the bus and looked around a bit and chatted with the second bus driver who was moving the bus along at this point as the first driver was still MIA. We saw the second bus driver quickly slip something that looked like a pack of smokes to the border guard who quickly pocketed it, got off the bus and opened the gate. The bus moved to the other side of the gate and stopped. About this time the first bus driver returned and the bus got searched again by more officials with flashlights. They checked through all places I mentioned earlier but only seemed to come off the bus with a few bottles of water that I suppose couldn't be brought across the border for some reason. We all got back on the bus and headed on towards Sophia. A little while later we noticed that there was a black plastic bag with a carton of smokes in the seat pocket of our seat, as well as in the seat across from us where a Turkish girl was sitting. I'm assuming that some stuff got moved around while the second bus driver got some quick advice or something from the first border patrol.

Around the end of the trip when were were in the city limits of Sophia, the second bus driver came round looking for his stash. When he had collected it all, they made a quick stop at the side of the road and dropped it off with some guy who I think was a taxi driver.

That's about the extent of the excitement for the over night bus ride. I get stressed out at border crossings and if you've ever seen the movie "Midnight Express" you'll know why this one was a little sketchy.

Anyways, it's about 3:00 in the afternoon and much colder than Istanbul and the Aegean coast by about 10 degrees. I might need another sweater. Time to find some information about the country...


Here is a quick photo from outside our hostel window. Apparently the red lettering says "Garage"


Posted by jcobham 04:15 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (2)

Ephesus - Pamukkale - Fethiye - Istanbul

Where do we go from here?

rain 22 °C

Since I wrote last, we've been on a cheap bus tour to Ephesus and Pamukkale, then back to Fethiye, and now we've flown back to Istanbul from the Dalaman Airport. I've taken so many photos in the last few days that I don't even know what to do with them all, but I'll put a couple in here.

We ended up spending two nights sleeping on the boat in Gocek, because Aziz from Budget Sailing found us a good price on an Ephesus-Pamukkale tour that left on the 16th (a Saturday) and told us we could just stay on the boat one more night. So at 7am on Saturday morning we were waiting on the side of the highway with our backpacks for the Pioneer Travel bus, which was only 15 minutes late. For about the price of one day in Istanbul (100 Turkish Lira), we got a two-day tour complete with breakfast, dinner, accommodation and entry fees to the sites at Ephesus and Pamukkale. Lunches were extra: 10 or 12 TL for all-you-can-eat buffets, which were pretty bland but filled the gap. Our tour guide, Yousuf, liked to say "No limit on lunch!" which cracked me up for some reason. He was a pretty good tour guide, although when we were at Ephesus I had trouble following his descriptions and histories, mainly because he listed off a lot of names of various kings and gods and his pronunciation of all of them was not what I was expecting. "Hercules" became "Heerculas," for example, and that was one of the easier ones to figure out.


Ephesus was pretty amazing. It rained on us a little at the end of our time there, but we didn't get very wet. The fact that the streets (the streets!) were made of marble says something about what kind of city it must have been. We only spent a couple of hours there (that's the trouble with guided tours) and it would have been nice to be able to spend a bit longer wandering about. Also, there's a museum in a nearby town with artifacts and some more marble statues and things that we didn't get to see. However, getting there on our own would have been more expensive and way more hassle than our super easy cheap tour. You win some, you lose some. Never mind! It was definitely worth it. Here's a photo of the Library of Celsus, because that's what you go to Ephesus for:


Our hotel was in the town of Karahayit, about 15 minutes outside of Pamukkale. It was called "Hotel Halici," which is pronounced "halee-jee," and sounds a bit like "Ali G," and the tour guide made the appropriate jokes. On the way there, we passed through a small village where our guide pointed out a couple of houses with glass pop bottles on the roofs. He told us that this was an old tradition where, when a girl is ready to be married, she puts a bottle on the roof of her family's house. If a young man can break the bottle (I think by throwing rocks at it), he can marry the girl. If her father catches him while he's trying to break the bottle, though, he's in trouble (the guide said, "he kills him," but perhaps that was hyperbole). And if he breaks the wrong bottle, well, then he's in even bigger trouble! Hardly anyone puts bottles on their roofs anymore, though.

Then we stopped by a cotton field so our guide could break off a cotton boll or two to show to us. There were cotton-picker's camps along the way, and a group of people were out in the field picking right near where we stopped. They waved and waved and smiled and held up big handfuls of cotton to show us. I would have expected them to be annoyed at the gawking tourists in the bus, but instead they seemed extremely friendly and happy to have an excuse to smile and wave and show us what they were doing. The sun was going down and glinted off the dome of the local mosque; we drove slowly behind a tractor with a man and wife going home; old ladies were walking the youngest children down the narrow dusty street. It was one of those moments where you just grin and look at everything in amazement - nothing is familiar, nothing is set up for tourists, everyone is going about their own business and somehow you happened to be passing through just then. I took a rather blurry photograph at one point which conveys something of what I'm trying to describe here:


At the hotel we had free range in the Turkish bath, the sauna, the two swimming pools and the three thermal (mineral hot-spring water) pools. It was extremely relaxing. The next day we visited Pamukkale and the ruins of Hierapolis, which are on the same site. Pamukkale means "cotton castle" in Turkish; it's this huge cascade of white calcified terraces with hot spring water running through it (mixing with cold water in some places). It has something to do with calcium and carbon dioxide coming out of the ground, which has something to do with the volcanic activity in the area and all the hot springs around. Anyway, it's amazing and I wanted to stay there all day. Hierapolis was something of a spa town (the waters are supposed to give women more fertility) back in ancient times, and you can still swim in the "antique pool." Plus there are ruins all over the place and a museum and a restored amphitheatre that is really quite impressive.


On the tour we met a lovely British couple, Robin and Steve, who co-own a condo in Fethiye. They offered to let us stay there when the tour brought us back to Fethiye that night, and we gladly accepted. We had dinner with them in a local restaurant, they fed us a Turkish breakfast in the morning and walked us to our bus stop to begin our journey back to Istanbul. We exchanged addresses and we'll definitely send them some kind of postcard from somewhere along the way as a thank-you of sorts. They were really kind to us and it was nice to sit around chatting over drinks with them. Thank you, Robin and Steve! Now we're in Istanbul again and it turns out that Jason's friend Ahmet, who we'd hoped to meet up with here, has been sent to London on business. So... perhaps we'll be off to Bulgaria quite soon. We haven't decided yet, but we'll try to figure something out tomorrow.

Posted by arwyn 10:35 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Last day, rainy and humid in Gocek

rain 24 °C

That's the Aloha 27 we spent the past three weeks in. It was good, but now it's raining - good for the last day. Makes you not quite so sad about giving up your very small but very portable accommodation. We're back at the Budget Sailing office now, doing laundry and drinking coffee. We'll sleep on the boat tonight and hand it back tomorrow. Jason is researching flights to Izmir and Istanbul. We're not exactly sure where we'll go from here...

Posted by arwyn 07:09 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Tattooed Brits

sunny 24 °C

We're moored at the Marmaris marina right now, so we've got free wireless - but that doesn't necessarily mean I can upload lots of photos. It's not the best wireless. But here are a few photos for you.

A rock tomb at Tomb Bay (Tasyaka Koyu). We were able to hike right up to these ones and poke our heads inside, which we couldn't really do at the more impressive Carian rock tombs in Dalyan.

Rock tombs at Dalyan, as seen from our tour boat on the Koycegiz river. We shared a tour boat with four Brits, and had a great day going upriver. We stopped to see a sea turtle at the turtle beach (one that hangs around because local fishermen feed it crabs), we visited a sulfurous mud bath and hot-spring, and we got great views of those massive rock tombs. Apparently the biggest one took twenty-five years to build!

The turtle's name is Ali, and he's 78 years old, apparently. Turkish shopkeepers tell lots of good stories, so I wouldn't put it past a tour guide. But Ali is a very large turtle, and could well be 78.

From Ekincik we sailed to Marmaris, and had to go directly upwind to get into the harbour. It was a very gusty day and I found the sailing to be a bit frightening, because every now and then a really huge gust would push the boat over about as far as it would go without actually touching the water. We had to motor in with lots of spray in our faces (mostly Jason's, since I went inside and ate bread and cheese to calm down). In Marmaris there's a whole lot of covered bazaar, where it's cool and shady and a relief from the afternoon sun. The shops are mostly the same - a pashmina shawl shop, a shoe shop, a bar, a tattoo parlour, wash, rinse, repeat. One sailor we met in Ekincik said Marmaris wasn't a very nice town: "It's just full of tattooed Brits." This may be true, but the old town at least isn't that bad. The ugly hotels all the way down all the beaches, though, aren't very picturesque. We stopped for some cold drinks at a doner kebab place and the waiter was ridiculously eager, pulling out the chairs for us, calling me "princess" and giving us a free sample of the chicken kebab. We'd already had lunch and weren't hungry, and only wanted one drink each (the fresh-squeezed orange juice was really good) so we disappointed him. I think it was a slow afternoon. Later we were lured into a carpet shop by a man who spoke very good English and immediately produced apple tea and started throwing carpets on the floor to show to us, all the while talking about natural dyes and girls spending 4 or 5 months making dowry carpets for their future husbands. We really didn't want to buy a carpet, but it was fun looking at them for the first little while. Then the shopkeeper became insistent that we tell him which one we liked best, so he could give us the best price, which he proceeded to cut in half when we assured him we didn't want a carpet at all. He kept saying, "Don't you want something like this to take home for your best place?" No, we didn't. It took us a few minutes to get out of there, but in the end he shook our hands and said goodbye in a friendly fashion. His assistant asked me what Istanbul was like - he said business is bad here and they might move up to the big city next year.

We're probably going to head back South tomorrow - we have four days to get back to Gocek and return the boat. If we make good time we can hang out in Ruin Bay or somewhere nice like that again. The small bays and islands around Gocek are really superb.

Posted by arwyn 11:43 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Frying onions on a rolling sea

We've got this very helpful pilot book on our boat: "Turkish Waters and Cyprus Pilot" by one Rod Heikell. It's quite useful for getting us to good sheltered anchorages - but every now and then it's necessary (because the sun is going down, or one of the crew fell down the stairs of the boat, or all of the crew is just plain tired) to anchor somewhere that isn't listed in the book. This can be rather "uncomfortable," as in, everything rolls from side to side all night so much that it seems like a huge effort to do anything at all. Luckily our stove is a hanging, swinging little gas number that stays mostly level no matter what.

A turquoise boat on turquoise water...

In the last entry I mentioned this Ghost Town that we went into to have a wander. It was pretty crazy. Now I've got a piece of paper in front of me with some badly translated "official" history of the place. Perhaps I'll just quote, and you can have a laugh along with me.

"In 1924, on the basis of an exchange agreement signed between the Turkish and Greek administrations. The Greek orthodox population of kayakoy were sent to Greece while the Turkish living in Thrace asked to settle at the kaya village, upon arrial, the incomingsettlers could not adjust to life. Style in the village and moved down to the plains. The houses were taken under protection at a later. The ancient name of the village is Levisse The total population of the village was 15,000."

I have typed that out exactly as I read it - the mistakes are just bad enough that you can still get the general idea. The other quote from that info sheet that I liked described the Kayakoy houses as standing still "as if bound by the hush of long waiting." Anyway, here's a picture of Kayakoy (formerly called Levissi by the Greek Orthodox Christians).


Since then we've been back to Gocek, then visited Tersane Island, Tomb Bay (Lycian rock tombs in the cliffs), and Ruin Bay (Cleopatra's Bath) before heading North-West to Ekincik. From here we can take a river tour up to visit a turtle beach (although it's not breeding season, so not as much excitement there), more Lycian rock tombs, the ruins of Ancient Caunos, the town of Dalyan and even a mineral mud bath. That's our plan for tomorrow, and then we'll spend a few more days going back South towards Gocek. There are more pictures on my Flickr site, although not of the most recent stuff yet.

Posted by arwyn 12:15 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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