The Becks files .

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Turkey – So Rock! Or Maybe Not – Part 1

Part 1

Going to Turkey had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. My Great Grandfather had been at Gallipoli for a short time and had he not taken a piece of shrapnel to the eye and been sent home early, there’s a very high likelihood I wouldn’t exist today. There are very few war stories that are more part of the Australian discourse than that of Gallipoli. The combination of learning about it every year in school and knowing that it was responsible for the glass eye my Great-Grandad would playfully remove to gross out my Mum as a child made it a place I was determined to see in my lifetime. I also knew that my Grandad would not get to see the place where his Dad fought with his own eyes, and I was keen for someone in the family to personally make the trek and report back with photos and stories.

In August 2008 when I was 21, I was living and working in the UK as the au pair for a family I fell in love with and am still close with today. When I got to England, the sum total of my overseas travel experience was 3 weeks in the US when I was 18, and 12 hours in Brunei on a stopover during my 36-hour journey to London 4 months earlier (brutal, and resulting in chronic jet lag and the one of the worst colds I’ve ever had). I wasn’t exactly well versed in the art of international travel, particularly to non-English speaking, Middle-Eastern countries as a blue-eyed, fair-skinned lone female who didn’t yet understand the nuances of cultural sensitivity. I believe the limited consideration I gave to this combination of facts resulted in a very succinct thought on how I planned to deal with them. Namely, “eh.”

The family had been to Turkey many times on holiday and couldn’t say enough wonderful things about it. Gallipoli was good as a day trip, but the real experience to be had was the amazing clear waters of the Mediterranean and the patch-work quilt quality of the landscape in general. The Gallipoli story really does overshadow all the other amazing things about this country and to this day I think it is a hidden gem that Aussie’s know extraordinarily little about. So, with their input and not much else but a wish and a prayer (always helpful, but not really), I booked my flights to Istanbul and a hostel for the first couple of nights. I had been told the best way to book everything would be once I arrived in the city itself – doing this in real life completely cured me of this view and it is not an approach I have ever taken since or will ever take again.

A few days before I left for the trip, there was news that a bomb had been dropped in Istanbul. I questioned whether I should still go and settled on proceeding (against the pleas of my terrified mother). I approached it with a “you can’t live your life in fear” kind of mentality and I still generally have this mantra when it comes to travel. If you’re afraid to get bombed or shot or whatever else everywhere you go, you’ll never go anywhere. When I asked a local about the bombing a couple of days after I arrived, she commented, “Ha, that was over the other side of the river!” Oh? Well sweet as then, no worries… the two sides of the city run completely independent from one another. Apparently to the point that if a bomb drops on one side, it poses no immanent danger to the people on the other.

When my flight arrived and I walked outside the airport, the first thing I noticed was the militant style police standing at every entrance with automatic weapons. This shocked me. The only time I’d ever seen this before was at my stopover in Brunei, but in that scenario I was jumping on a transfer bus to go to a hotel and would be ferried around by a guide for the duration of my lengthy 12 hour stay. In this case, I had to find a taxi and get to an address that might as well have been the moon for all the bearings I had; not only had I not looked at a map of where I was going, but I possess – or

dispossess as the case may be – a lack of even the slightest sense of direction. The driver could have taken me anywhere and I wouldn’t have known the difference until it was too late. It was at this point, about 35 minutes into the trip, that I realised I was in over my head.

I found a cab and did my best to communicate where I needed to go. Let me tell you, I was not filled with confidence that the driver knew where to take me, because the exchange had been lengthy and filled with questions I couldn’t answer – it’s an address, take me there… I don’t know what else you want me to say. The total duration of the journey would have been about 40 minutes. I was sat in the back seat and I was chatting to the driver and trying to be friendly. This is something I was used to doing and it wasn’t until many years later that I realised actions and words can mean different things in different cultures. My eagerness to engage was met with his eagerness to engage.

About halfway through the journey, he asked me if I wanted to sit with him in the front seat. I didn’t know what to say; I absolutely did not want to sit with him in the front seat but, for obvious reasons, I also didn’t want to offend him. So, with hesitation, I said that would be alright, but I was already in the back so… oh well. At this point, he pulled the car off of the highway onto the gravelled shoulder and told me to get in the front. I decided compliance was my best option, so I got out and moved into the front passenger’s seat. The rest of the trip was filled with him fawning over me, trying (and failing) to praise me (at one point he told me I had “the broad shoulders of a swimmer” as if this was the compliment to end all compliments…) and me awkwardly nodding, smiling and praying he was going to drop me at my hostel and not throw me into a dungeon where he could continue to sweet talk me about my man shoulders.

I eventually did make it to the hostel and felt some relief that I’d arrived alive. I checked in and went up to my room which was shared with 3 other people, none of whom were in it at the time. I felt a deep sense of dismay when I walked into that room. Not only was I alone with no idea what to do next, but I am someone you’d consider to be a “troubled sleeper.” Years of my life have been spent trying to find the miracle sleep cure; ear plugs, white noise, drugs, music, bedding, carefully constructed environments that would give me the best shot in hell of a peaceful slumber. None of these efforts involved being surrounded by strangers in a noisy city on an uncomfortable top bunk bed. I felt this deep sense of foreboding that this would be a mostly sleepless trip and, despite deploying my greatest weapon (the power of thinking positively) I was unfortunately correct.

I ventured out to walk around the city and see if I could find a place to book my tour down to Gallipoli and around the rest of the country. As if the cab journey had not been confirmation enough, it became quickly apparent that I was going to be getting a lot of unwanted attention in this country. Looking back, in its nature I don’t believe it was intended to be threatening, but I did feel unsafe. I wasn’t showing my body off by any means, but I certainly didn’t have the appropriate clothing either. I also didn’t have a wedding ring and, most importantly, I didn’t have a man with me, or even a group of people to get lost in.

I found a business that booked tours and I went inside. The owner took me into his office and spent what felt like a long time going over my options for the trip. It was at this point that I realised another way in which I was underprepared – I didn’t have enough money. Being my first time travelling alone and especially in these circumstances, I should have had ample funds and excess on top of that for backup, even if just for peace of mind. But I had the absolute bare minimum and no one I could really call for a handout.

The owner spent a lot of time with me going over what I wanted to do. He also kept bringing up how he loved Australian women and talking about the Aussie backpackers he’d slept with on nights out in

the city. He talked in detail about the sex life of a couple he had booked on a tour earlier that day (funnily enough, I ended up being with that couple for part of my trip – I asked them why he knew so much about their sexual relationship and they said, “He kept asking…so we told him”). He tried to convince me to come and hang out with him and his friends in the city after he had finished the booking. By this point, I just wanted to get away from him. I’d turned around at one point and realised not only was it getting dark, but everyone else in the office had left and I was essentially locked inside alone with this man. I booked the tour with too much haste and ended up spending every last cent on it, leaving myself no money for food or even bottled water (which you have to have in Turkey) for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, Cathy (the Mum of the family I worked for) came the rescue the next day and transferred some cash to keep me alive.

I walked out of the office relieved and shit scared and practically ran back the hostel just as the dusk began to disappear. There was nothing innately frightening about Istanbul at night, but after the 2 situations I’d gotten myself into in the space of a few short hours, I was shaken and just wanted to be somewhere even mildly familiar. I sat at a computer near reception and sent a message to James (who became my boyfriend a month later and is now my husband), who was on the other side of the Black Sea travelling in Bulgaria. I wished I was with him. Travelling with James would be the best. Not only because he knew where to go, what to do and how to get there, but because he was confident, charming, 6 foot 3 and no one would ever give him any trouble. I learned 2 months later when we went to Egypt together that my assumptions had been correct.

Over the course of the next couple of days I explored the city. I was at the largest Bazaar in the world, and I was too scared to go more than a hundred metres or so inside for fear I’d be swallowed up. I was really impressed with the intricacies of rug making and at one point walked past a woman weaving one on the street. I stopped to watch her and after a while she gestured for me to sit down and have a go, and to get a photo. I sat for a moment and when I got up she looked at me expectantly. I didn’t realise that this was her living and she gave people this brief experience so they would make a donation to her. I honestly can’t remember if this occurred to me at the time or later in the day, and I don’t know if I gave her any money (I really hope so – my inexperience strikes again).

From Istanbul, I got a bus to a hostel in a town near to Gallipoli. There, I met the couple whose sex life I knew all about… I decided not to mention it until the next day. They were young, friendly Aussies and I latched onto them for dear life. A small group of us and a tour guide were bussed out to Gallipoli that afternoon to see what I had come all this way for. I was most struck by 2 things; the sheer cliffs that the soldiers had climbed upon reaching the shore, and the ridiculous proximity of the opposing trenches, which were only about 10 metres apart at their closest, if that. I made the mistake of asking the tour guide to take some photos of me on the beach at ANZAC Cove, which he took far too much pleasure in as I once again realised (but still didn’t learn anything from) that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The highlight of my day came when I returned from one of my many and constant toilet stops. The Aussie guy who was with the group played the trumpet (a detail I was not aware of) and while I was off pissing on a tree somewhere, he’d played The Last Post on the beach of ANZAC Cove… and I had missed it. Fuck.me.

Later at the hostel when I was alone again, one of the staff sat beside me on a couch in the common area and started chatting me up. It was flattering I suppose, but I just wasn’t interested. I was already head over heels for James at this point and the come ons were so overt that it was slimy and awkward and, once again, I just wanted to get away from him. As I wasn’t staying overnight, he set me up in a room for a short while so I could have a shower and get changed. The “shower” was a small tub on the floor with a tap attached and you just had to make do. The guy had been so

persistent with me that to this day I wonder if he spied on me while I was in there. I don’t think that was the case, but I wouldn’t be surprised. He’d taken me to a room so far down the corridor of a seemingly empty hostel and everything about it just felt off. I will admit I was paranoid as hell by this point, so probably anything would have felt untoward. The bottom line is, my day at Gallipoli was different than I had imagined.

The Aussie couple and I got on a ferry later that evening and made a crossing to ‘I have no idea where.’ We then got on an overnight bus bound for the ancient city of Ephesus. These were lengthy bus journeys and the busses had no toilets, so you had to take whatever opportunities you could to go. At one point the bus stopped to refuel and myself and the Aussie girl rushed off, leaving everything behind with her boyfriend, to make a quick pitstop (sidebar – the toilets in Turkey are horrendous. The fact that they are holes in the ground and that you have to pay to get in isn’t the problem. The problem is that they are generally, and especially at roadside stops in the middle of nowhere, abominably filthy. As someone with a special brand of OCD that involves being very particular about cleanliness, this was most distressing to me and something I had to deal with countless times on this trip). We didn’t take too long but when we got back on the bus, the boyfriend said that the bus driver had backed up and started to pull away while we were gone. He had to run down the front and tell him he was missing 2 people and ask him to wait. You would think that at this point I would learn the lesson not to let my passport out of my possession – I hate to think what would have happened if that bus had pulled away – but alas, I did not. I got through that night by listening to sad acoustic songs on my iPod and thinking about James. Actually, I got through most of the long journeys and sleepless nights this way.

In Ephesus, I ran out of money again. I was due to be paid the next day and didn’t want to ask for anymore money from Cathy. The Aussie’s shouted me dinner that night and the owner of the hostel was really warm and generous, gave me some water and let me pay for my room the next day. I liked it there because it felt less like a big city and more homely. The owners sat out the front on a wooden table and chairs playing game after game of Backgammon on a set that was very old and well loved; it felt like the first glimpse of real life I had seen since arriving. This was also the best night’s sleep I’d get because I had the luxury of a private room, which was absolute bliss. I ventured out the next day to a city with signs like “Genuine Fake Watches Sold Here!” all over the place. There was plenty of things to do there, like see ‘The House of Mary’ (a popular pilgrimage site where the Virgin Mary is said to have lived and died), but I just wanted to see the Ancient City of Ephesus, the preserved ruins dating back to the 10th century BC. I’m not the best at sightseeing. I get bored with traipsing around hearing stories and taking pictures and I only had the energy to do one major thing.

Initially I was told I could walk to Ephesus. When blisters started to form after at least a couple of kilometres of walking in totally inappropriate footwear and 40 degree heat, it became apparent that this was not the case. Fed up with life, I did what any sensible young woman would do and proceeded to spend money I didn’t have on a taxi to drop me at the entrance. I hired the recorded tour and, considering the effort and cost it had taken me to get there, gave a pathetically cursory glance around at the city. I spent the majority of my time sitting in the ancient amphitheatre, which I’d climbed to the very top, trying to imagine the scenes that had played out there in centuries gone by. I spent a long time doing this and, being my first experience of an ancient world, I felt a sense of accomplishment at being there. I phoned my brother back home in Australia from those steps so that I could do what any good sister would do – rub it in. I remember him cursing me with jealousy that he wasn’t there too and wondering if he’d still feel that way if I told him how difficult the trip had been for me so far, and how one of my only happy moments had been spent calling him. I doubt it. I don’t remember how I got back to the hostel, I probably paid for another cab.

The next stop was Pamukkale, meaning “Cotton Castle.” This is a magnificent site with hot springs ranging from 35 to 100 degrees and is famous for a carbonate mineral left by the flowing water. It is like a giant, white hillside with light blue pools of warm water scattered all around; uniquely beautiful. I’d been taken there by bus but, unlike the rest of the group, I was to leave early to be deposited at another depot in order to make my next bus down to Oludeniz in the South. When it was time for me to go, I asked the tour guide to take me where I needed to be. She was busy swimming in one of the pools and her response was, “What? How old are you?… “ So, not wanting to seem like a big baby, I made my way back to the carpark to find the bus and driver that had brought us here. At this point I will mention that, once again, I had left my belongings (including my phone and passport) on the bus.

I walked into the carpark and was met with a veritable sea of busses. The only words I can use to describe my feelings at this point are “sheer panic.” Not only did I not know where my bus was, I now didn’t know where my group was either. I had nothing with me except a towel and the clothes on my back, and I had another bus to catch on the other side of this journey which I’d be royally screwed if I missed. This wasn’t like the Sydney CDB on a weekday morning where if you miss the 444 you can just jump on the next one. After some time and only by the grace of whichever deity you believe in, I managed to locate my bus. The driver was asleep and waiting for me. He was totally chilled out, smiled and let me in when I knocked. I was dead inside. He dropped me at the next depot and I exhaled to know that once again, I had made it to the next stop alive and with my possessions.

The bus ride was around 5 or 6 hours and was amazing for scenery. This was the drive where I really got to appreciate the many various landscapes in Turkey. Between this and having seen Pamukkale that morning, I was truly taken aback by how stunning of a place it really is. So, it was a pleasant drive… what would have made it more pleasant is if it didn’t involve a middle-aged man with his young son sitting on his lap beside me the whole journey. Not only was this very cramped, but he saw fit to spend almost the entire journey chatting me up. He kept inviting me to stay at his house once we made it to Oludeniz, insisting that he would take good care of me there. As much as you may want to, it’s really difficult to ignore a person who is virtually sitting on top of you. I spent the entire trip playing defence, but the presence of his son made me feel less uncomfortable than I had in the other cases (emotionally, not physically). I know it was nothing more than sincere friendliness and hospitality, but also, if someone says no to you, persisting for additional 5 hours could be considered overkill. When I arrived in Oludeniz at the bus depot it was dark, and my hostel transfer hadn’t turned up. For the thousandth moment on this trip I felt a sinking feeling of despair and tried to find some official looking people who would take pity on me. The hostel wasn’t far from the depot and one of the drivers took me over there in a van.

Continued… Click here to read part 2

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