How I got around Turkey

Having spent over a month in Turkey traveling up the west coast and across the Black Sea coast, I figured I it would probably be good if I wrote something about how I did it. My way may not be everyone’s, but at least this should give some ideas if anyone else is thinking about traversing the country.

So, I entered via ferry from Rhodes, Greece. While that was great for getting in, that’s the last ferry I’ve taken. (Quick aside: ferries are fantastic for getting between the Greek islands and/or between Turkey and the Greek islands.)

Once in Turkey, I found the easiest thing was to take buses. The country is well connected via roads, and buses travel to even very small towns. The word you’ll need here is ‘otogar’; it means main bus terminal. Every town has one. There were a few instances where neither I nor the local bus driver spoke each others’ language, but I was quickly able to identify if he was going where I wanted by simply asking: ‘otogar’? If he wasn’t going there, this was generally followed by a bunch of pointing and speaking in Turkish. ‘Teşekkürler’ (thanks), now I’ll just walk in the direction you pointed to and find another bus driver.

People that speak English get pretty scarce in Eastern Turkey, but I was always able to find someone that spoke well enough to walk me through buying a bus ticket at the town’s main bus station. Actually, they usually found me. I’d just wander into the terminal looking lost, and they’d come up and ask me where I was going. If that doesn’t happen though, just walk up to a desk, and ask. They’ll find someone that speaks English, and even send you to another company if they aren’t going where you need to go.

There were a few instances where I needed to take a couple buses; I had to go to one place to catch another bus in order to finish the trip. This is where the site Rome 2 Rio comes in handy. Even on the times when I didn’t look up the connecting city first, the employees would tell me I had to go through a certain place first.

Some people I ran into suggested I go online and purchase my tickets there. While that would have been great, I have yet to find a page that’s not in Turkish (and there were no other language options). Additionally, there are many bus companies and routes that are not listed online. I found that there were always multiple buses throughout the day heading in the direction I wanted to go. So just showing up was a lot easier, and I never had any problems doing that.

I should also mention that flying and taking trains are also options between the larger and/or more popular cities. These are also very affordable options, but I preferred to stick with a consistent mode of travel that would get me anywhere.

I also occasionally took metros (in the large cities) and taxis within a town when walking seemed like too much of a pain in the ass. Most of the time though, I didn’t mind walking. I know, I’m weird.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful. There’s a handy little comments section if there are any further questions. Until next time….

Traveling during Ramadan

For those not familiar with Muslim traditions, Ramadan is a 29-30 day period during which time a few unusual things happen. The most noticeable of these is the fast. During this time, many Muslims will not eat during daylight hours. As you can imagine, this comes with varying degrees of difficulty depending on what time of year this occurs (the time frame is based on a lunar calendar, so the time of year shifts slightly each year). This year, it’s 15 May – 14 June (at least in Turkey).

When it began, I was in İstanbul. Even though Turkey is a Muslim country, there are a lot of non-Muslims (or non-fast participants) in İstanbul so I didn’t notice that much of a difference. In Ankara, there were also a lot of non-participants so I could still go out to eat during the day without getting looked at strangely.

All that changed when I arrived in Samsun. Here almost everyone is fasting. It’s very strange for someone like me who isn’t used to this sort of thing.

About half the restaurants are still open, but no one in them is eating (during daylight hours). They’ll sit at a table socializing and drinking (usually tea) with their unopened to-go bags sitting on the table.

All the bakeries, fruit stands, and convenience stores are still open. It’s just that now you don’t see anyone walking away from them munching on their newly acquired Simit (a ring of bread with sesame seeds; they look like pretzels, but taste like ‘normal’ bread).

I was warned in Ankara eating in public in an area with a lot of fasting people could be dangerous. As in, a hangry person (someone that’s angry due to hunger) could take my public display of not fasting as an excuse to fight me. Since I didn’t have the foresight to book a place with a private kitchen, this has made things rather difficult for me.

Traveling can be tricky enough without these extra complications. I’m in a new place with unfamiliar restaurants. I don’t speak the local language. And now I have to take any food I get during the day back to my place, and hide the fact that I’m stuffing my face before I get hangry.

Since I started traveling, I haven’t missed much about the US. However, being able to gorge myself in public is definitely something I really miss right now. Anyone that’s met me in person knows I have very little fat which means I’m particularly susceptible to disruptions in my food supply. If some sort of mass starvation event occurred, I’d be one of the first casualties.

Some other people that know me might be like: “This is a great opportunity to experience someone else’s culture. You can find out first-hand what it’s like to be Muslim during Ramadan.” While it’s certainly true that I like new cultural experiences, this is not one I’d like to try. Sorry Muslims, I like my food.

I think the next time I decide to travel through a Muslim country, I’ll check to see if it’s Ramadan time. If it is, I’ll punch myself in the face and re-schedule.

It’s funny; a lot of people back home told me I shouldn’t come to Turkey because it’s “dangerous” and “there are a lot of refugees there” and “don’t they practice Sharia Law there?” To which I can now respond that “it’s not dangerous”, “what do you have against refugees” and “no, they don’t practice Sharia Law”. This ‘fasting during Ramadan’ thing is the biggest challenge I’ve faced.

Now I’m rambling…. Anyway, hopefully someone out there has found this helpful and/or entertaining. Until next post….

Detained by Turkish police

So I’ve been generally enjoying my time in Ankara. This city is unlike any other I’ve encountered in Turkey. I think it’s because it’s so new. Sure, the old section around the castle looks a lot like the rest of Turkey, but once you’re in the rest of the city, it almost looks like the US. The streets are wide, the buildings are modern and tall, hell I even saw a theme park on the way into the city.

Anyway, one of the guys staying in my room is from Russia. After chatting for a while last night, we decided that today we’d explore the city together. I love company, and it gave me the chance to ask him a little about his home.

Together we discovered that most museums are closed on Sundays; who closes a museum on a weekend? We walked through a park. We hid from the rain for a couple hours in a mosque…. It was mostly a good time, except for….

While it was still hot outside, we happened to be walking by the main train station. Most of the complex is inside so we decided to walk in and rest for a bit. While we were hanging out, some cops came up to us and asked to see our passports.

We were being IDed? I’d been asked for my passport when booking a bus, or checking into a hostel. I’d never had someone just walk up to me and ask to see it though. We had both left our passports back at the hostel, and we tried to explain that to the cops. I’m not sure if they understood, but they started wandering off.

Then a couple plain clothed people walked up, flashed IDs that said police, and asked to see our passports. We tried to tell them we didn’t have them with us. Once they determined we were going to be ‘problem people’, they indicated they wanted us to go with them. Being a bit suspicious, I asked the uniformed police as we were passing them if these plain clothed people were cops. They indicated they were so at least I knew we weren’t being taken away by random criminals trying to run a scam.

They took us to a room, and patted us down. The guy frisking me felt my wallet and phone so he moved to a table and indicated he wanted me to empty my pockets onto it. He then looked through my wallet, and found my drivers license (which is expired, but I don’t think he noticed that part).

Then he told me to unlock my phone which I did, and handed back to him. He went past a few screens I’d never seen before, and got to one with bar codes. I think it listed the phone’s information. He took a picture, then continued his search.

He started feeling through my pockets. He discovered the print out of my e-visa that I had on my for some unknown reason. This was the most useful thing he’d found so far. He quickly got my information off it, and handed it back to me.

The whole time this was going on, the other guy was talking to my Russian friend who happened to know enough Turkish to make things extra confusing. They would exchange a few words, then they’d get to a word he didn’t know, and the confused looks resumed. I think in the future, it would be better to just act like we don’t know any Turkish. The cops were a lot more aggressive with him than me.

They spent about half an hour trying to talk to him. What I was able to gather from the talks was that they really didn’t like that we didn’t have proper ID on us. They also accused us of being terrorists numerous times. If I had to guess, I think their logic went something like “we can’t ID you so there’s no way for us to know you are who you claim to be, therefore, you could be anyone; even terrorists”. But I don’t speak Turkish so I could be wrong.

In talking to my friend, they did manage to learn where we were staying, and we gave them the phone number of the hostel. They called, and the receptionist sent over copies of our passports, and verified we were staying there. They still weren’t happy, but they also seemed to back off very slightly after that.

Finally, they let us go. For a while, I was worried I’d have to find a way to contact the US Embassy from jail. I’d only lost half an hour of my life, but it felt like a whole lot longer.

When we got back to the hostel, my friend got a hold of the Russian Consulate. They told him the Turkish police do an insane number of passport checks. They also said as long as we have our passports on us, we should be fine.

So lesson learned: carry my passport (or at the very least a copy of it) with me at all times. The concept still seems so foreign to me. This is the first place I’ve been where cops will randomly stop people and ask to see their ‘papers’. I guess they have their reasons, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Anyway, I hope this has been somewhat informative. Until the next catastrophe…. Or at least it’s starting to feel like that. Hopefully, the next post will just be a normal travel blog though.

The Bus Incident

This is going to be a story about one of my more interesting days on the road. Fair warning: if you’re squeamish, you might want to skip this article….

My time in İzmir was coming to a close. It had been an enjoyable and relaxing week. The hostel was a block away from a pedestrian street full of restaurants. Another block beyond that was the bay. And they’d made the path along the water nice. Right along the water is a stone ‘fence’ and a cobblestone path. A little further inland they planted grass and a few trees. In the middle of the grass, there’s a bicycle lane, and a pedestrian walkway. I walked down there a few times to sit in the grass and chill with the breeze blowing through my hair. I really liked İzmir.

The only down side is there was no easy, public transportation route between the hostel and the main bus station. But this morning was a [relatively] cool 22 degrees (72F), and I was feeling refreshed after a week of relaxation so I decided I could just walk. Google said it would take about an hour, but I walk fast so I figured about 45 minutes.

I got to the spot, and…it looked an awful lot like a metro station that was under construction. I checked the map again; I was sure it had said ‘otogar’ (Turkish for main bus station) in the description. Sure enough, it did say that…but there were 2 other spots in town that said that as well. One was a good deal south, and I knew that wasn’t it as I’d arrived in the city at the ‘otogar’. That meant the remaining options was…another hour on foot east. Well, I was still feeling pretty good so I decided to continue walking.

Roughly 45 minutes later, I arrived at the correct otogar. A quick check confirmed I’d walked 6.1 kilometers (3.8 miles). Incidentally, this was with me carrying my backpack the whole time. Needless to say, I’d gotten hot and sweaty by then, but I wasn’t feeling too bad. Score a win for fitness.

Now it was time to buy a ticket to Bursa (the way point en route to İstanbul). The guy at the counter said the bus was leaving right then. So I bought my ticket, and ran outside. I got there just as they were getting ready to close the door, and leave. Perfect timing.

Four hours later on one of the nice buses, I arrived in Bursa. The bus station is the largest I’ve seen. I was later told it’s the largest bus station in all of Turkey. Navigating this place is far more difficult than the bus stations in the less than 100,000 permanent resident towns I’d been to so far.

While buying my ticket to İstanbul, the guy handling my purchase got into an argument with someone. It was in Turkish so I have no idea what they were saying, but it was clearly going to take a while. So another agent reached around him to finish inputting my information in the computer, printed out my ticket, and told me where to go. Thanks; minor crisis averted.

Now I just had a 2.5 hour trip to my destination city. However, I encountered a rather serious issue about an hour into the ride: I had to poop. Normally, that would just be a minor annoyance, but my diet had changed rather drastically in the past week so things were a little less solid than normal. Whatever, I’d just try to hold it in as much as possible, but farts refused to be contained. After one of them, I felt a little different. Had I just shit my pants? I hoped not, and resumed the waiting game hoping the bus would stop anywhere soon.

But now there was another problem: there was a lot of traffic. After a while, the bus pulled off the highway, and started going down side streets. At first, I thought that meant we were close to a station, but no. After another half hour of side streets, the bus finally stopped at a gas station. The ‘stewardess’ said something rather lengthy in Turkish, but I wasn’t paying much attention. Even if I could have understood her, I knew I was getting off to find a bathroom.

The bathroom that was available was a traditional Turkish one: a hole in the floor. No time to be picky; into the stall I went, and…sweet relief! While I had my pants down, I decided to check a few things. Sure enough, I had shit my pants. My underwear was quite brown, but there wasn’t anything solid in there, and nothing had transferred onto my jeans. Small victories.

Then, I discovered another problem: it seems toilet paper is a relatively new concept to Turks. There was a water faucet sitting rather low on the wall, and a small bucket underneath it. Was I supposed to clean myself up with that? I remembered something I’d heard in a cultural class a while back. Something about people using their left hands to clean themselves with, and thus not using that hand to shake hands or eat with. Well, I had to get out of the bathroom somehow so…yeah, I made my left hand very unclean. And washed the hell out of my hands when I got out of the stall!

I hadn’t done a great job of washing my ass (I mean, how can you when all you have is water and your hands), and didn’t have a change of underwear with me so…it looked like I was just going to have to be dirty for a little longer. At least I no longer felt the pressure on my guts so I was (relatively) comfortable.

All this had happened with enough time for me to get back on the bus for which I was quite grateful. I could have gotten to my final destination from the gas station in the middle of nowhere, but it certainly wouldn’t have been easy. It was time to wait out the remaining hour until we got the to the İstanbul bus station.

But as we went along, I noticed the buildings becoming less frequent. I pulled out my phone (which didn’t have data; fortunately, I loaded some of the area before I lost it), and checked the GPS. We were on a highway that goes around the outside of İstanbul. Where were we going? Whatever, I could figure out how to get back at the next city we stopped at.

Fortunately, we eventually started going back toward İstanbul. It seems the otogar is on the European side of the city, and we were coming from the Asian side. I’m guessing that spiel the stewardess gave earlier was saying something like “There’s been an accident near the bridge so we’re going to circle around the city. This will take us an additional hour to complete.” At least that’s my guess as we ended up at the bus station an hour later than the original plan.

From the main bus station, I took a small bus to a square. From there, I followed the directions I’d (thankfully) written down the previous evening to find the hostel (this no data thing was quite annoying). I checked in, and took a much needed shower. So…much…scrubbing….

I also had to poop a few more times before going to sleep, because diarrhea is no joke. At least this time the hostel had western toilets with paper. So I was able to adequately clean myself after each use. The little luxuries we take for granted….

So yeah, this was a not so pleasant experience, but everything worked out in the end. It’s also a very real reminder of why it’s important to eat a sufficient amount of fiber. There’s a reason locals down a lot of bread even if it’s not garnished with anything. Lesson learned.

I hope those of you that actually read through this found it entertaining. More importantly, I hope you’ve learned with me how important food choices are. Until the next disaster….

Ephesus: a biblical scholars dream?

Kuşadası (where I was staying) is the closest ‘major’ (around 100,000 permanent residents) city to the ruins of Ephesus so I had to visit. It’s arguably the most important historical sight in all of Turkey, but we’ll get back to that later.

The first place we went on the organized tour was the Mary’s house. You know, mother of Jesus and all that…yeah, that Mary. It was commonly believed Mary had moved to Ephesus after the death of Christ, but people were unsure where for a long time. It seems a nun in the 19th century had visions of Mary’s house which she wrote down. Having never been to the area added some validity to the claims of finding the location based on said visions. Also, the oldest parts of the structure date to the first century.

A church was later built onto the house, and this is the section tourists are allowed to visit. They don’t allow photography inside, but its appearance is consistent with that of most small christian churches. Due to the large number of visitors, you have to go through rather quickly. There’s just enough time to light a candle, and say a quick prayer before a guard starts hassling you to keep things moving. Note: he only bothers you if you’re slow; most people are fine.

After exiting, you come to the on-site water source. It’s widely believed by religious people that the water is ‘holy’ or has healing properties. They even sell vials of it at the souvenir shop. Being a man of science, all I’ll say is it’s mineral water and [barring some sort of strange medical condition] won’t hurt you if ingested. The day I went, there were hordes of children lined up to get a taste. Noisy brats…I mean…I love kids…yeah, we’ll go with the latter.

Right next to the spring is the wishing wall. Supposedly, wishes/prayers placed there have a higher probability of coming true. Be ware if they do though, because then you’ll need to make the trip back to remove it. Depending on where you’re from, that could be an expensive wish. Though I suppose if it was important enough for you to place it there, it would be worth the price of a return journey.

There’s also a pool on site in the shape of a key. It was used to perform baptisms, and which some believe is the ‘key’ to heaven. Queue bad pun drums.

Travel tip: don’t go close to 15 August. That’s the day Mary died so visitors will be more numerous. Also don’t go on a Sunday as they have services at 1030 which are also largely attended. The site is considered religiously significant by Christians and Muslims who will perform pilgrimages to it. So I would recommend going during the week while most people are working (and the kids are in school).

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Ephesus set 1

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After fighting through the throngs of teenagers, it was time to hit up Ephesus. At the time of Christ, it was a major (and very rich) city. It’s said there were at least 250,000 permanent residents which is a lot for that time (cities have been getting progressively larger). The Biblical book (that sounds so repetitive…) of Ephesians was specifically written to the church there.

It used to sit right on the Mediterranean Sea via a bay and/or river depending on the year. As time progressed, water deposited increasing amounts of sediment which eventually cut the city off from the water (a death sentence for a major trade site). Today the city is several kilometers from the coast.

While all that sedimentation caused the city to be abandoned, it was awesome for farmers. The entire area is now some of the richest (for plants) places on the planet. So much so that the nearby town of Selçuk is populated by mostly vegetarians. Sorry animal rights activists, they’re that way for practical reasons rather than activist ones.

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Ephesus set 2

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Back to Ephesus…. The ruins are superficially far more impressive than most. This is because many of the ruins have been reconstructed. Also many of the original statues have been taken to museums so there are quite a few replicas in their place. While this might annoy some people, I loved it. I could get a far better idea of what the place looked like back in the day. Plus, some of the stones are 2000+ years old so…win!

Some of the more notable structures include…. The most famous building on site: the library. At the time, it was the third largest library in the world, and the entrance was commensurate with its stature. If you Google Ephesus, chances are the first few pictures that come up will be of the library.

Connected to the library by a tunnel was the brothel. “Honey, I’m going to the library.” So if you ever hear your partner say this, you might want to interrogate them a little more to ensure it’s not an ancient euphemism. Some people are old school like that….

We also saw a 2000 year old advertisement. Carved into the marble, on the ground, between the port and the city, was a foot, a woman, and a slot for a coin (a prototype vending machine?). The foot pointed toward the brothel. The woman…well, that’s obvious. And the coin was to bring cash; not paper which did exist at the time (see the history of money).

We also passed through Hercules’ Gate. It currently consists of two pillars which are close together with Hercules wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion carved into one of them. Its purpose was to prevent vehicles from going further into the city. It’s also said that if you touch both pillars with your outstretched arms while passing through the gate, you’ll be granted the strength of the demigod. So now when people ask me why I don’t go to the gym, I’ll just be like “I passed through Hercules’ Gate; I’m good”.

There are two theaters. The larger one has been mostly rebuilt, and hosts modern concerts. These are mostly at night as the area is hot during the summer days. In older times, it was also used as an arena.

We also saw a public bathroom (or toilet if you’re British). The sewage system of the city was advanced for the time, and maintained running water pushing the waste out of the area. There was a separate channel running in front of the toilets for people to use the sponges on sticks to wipe themselves. I was impressed.

The public bathroom was also the noisiest place in the city due to people talking and running water. When people (politicians, shady businessmen) wanted to talk and not be overheard, they would go there. I image that’s where the phrase “step into my office” originated. (For those that are unfamiliar, people will say that when they want someone to accompany them into the bathroom. It’s one of the less common English phrases).

Anyway, I really enjoyed my time there, and would recommend it for anyone that’s interested in Greek or Roman history. A few tips:

  • Start at the upper gate. The city is on a large slope with the bottom being the old port. There are two gates you can enter through: one at the top, the other at the bottom. Unless you like walking a few kilometers uphill, I would start at the top.
  • Bring water. Chances are you’ll be there on a warm day. It was 30 degrees when I went, and I’m very glad I bought a water bottle with me. A couple people in our group had to go to the exit early because they were getting dehydrated and needed to buy some water.
  • Avoid weekends. It was very crowded on the Saturday I went. There won’t be as many people during the week. It’s still one of the most famous sites in the world though so you’ll never have the place to yourself.

Until next time….

Pamukkale: to swim or not to swim?

A couple days ago, I did something a little unusual and spent money on a guided day trip. It was also rather long as it’s a roughly 3 hour drive from where I’m staying (Kuşadası). When we were almost there, we passed through a town and saw an example of why our destination was so unique.

Anyone that’s been to Turkey should be able to tell you that the water here has far more minerals in it than westerners are accustomed to. The locals will say all those minerals make the water taste bad, and you shouldn’t drink it for fear of getting an upset stomach. I haven’t had any trouble with it, but I’m cheap. Bottled water is pretty cheap though so if you’re concerned, there’s always that option.

In the town next to the site (not the small group of tourist buildings; an actual town), there’s a lot of iron in the water. We passed a fountain that is covered in reddish rock. It isn’t colored, that’s the result of iron rich water evaporating and leaving metal/mineral deposits behind. The same principle is in place in Pamukkale, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Pamukkale (the Turkish name which means ‘cotton palace’) is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Greek city of Hierapolis is also there and is what the area was called during Greek and Roman rule. The ancient city was built on hot springs that surface here and there.

The difference in Pamukkale is the water primarily has a lot of calcium in it. Because of this hot, calcium infused water, the city was one of the first examples (over 2000 years ago) of medical tourism. Hot calcium water is good for treating some ailments (arthritis comes to mind). In those times though, they tried to treat everything with it. As a result, many people died there as most serious diseases (like cancer) aren’t treated with mineral water.

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Random shots of Pamukkale, Turkey

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We started off wandering though the ruins of the old city; much of which is still buried. The guide told us a little about the remains of the structures we saw (the walls, a theater, a temple, etc). Fun fact: places of worship were the first buildings to be ‘recycled’. People needed stones for houses, walls, bath houses…but when they changed religions, they no longer ‘needed’ the old temples so they’d use the stones for whatever new thing they needed. OK, maybe not so fun for us today, but it gives an interesting glimpse into what they were thinking and why there aren’t more spectacular, old structures.

After the ruins, it was time to check out the hot springs, and we got a pleasant surprise. Some of the water runs down 300 meter cliffs. Since there’s a lot of calcium in the water, the ‘mountain’ is white! From a distance, it looks like snow…or cotton which is where the aforementioned ‘cotton palace’ comes from.

Then it was time to decide if I wanted to go swimming in the ‘healthy water’. Ultimately, I decided against it because: 1) I hadn’t brought a swimsuit (though I could have bought one); 2) the water was really crowded (mostly by Russians); 3) it was 32 degrees (90F) and sunny outside, and jumping in even warmer water didn’t seem like a way to cool down but make me even hotter.

Overall, it was a decent trip. However, I’d recommend renting a car and driving out yourself if at all possible. A guide isn’t really necessary, and was fairly expensive. If you do go with the ‘planning it yourself’ option, I’d recommend preparing snacks to keep in your car. And whatever you do, try to avoid buying anything there as everything costs double what it does in the rest of Turkey; the downside of a really popular tourist destination.

I hope you enjoyed this. Next post, Ephesus!

A little Rhodes, some Marmaris, and a lot of ‘story time’

The whole reason The Ferry Fiasco (see the post if you’re curious) was even a thing was so I could take the ferry from Ρόδος (Rhodes) to Marmaris. And before said ferry ride across the short (30 miles) stretch of water began, I was given shit by the agent ‘letting’ me out of the Schengen Zone. There was no stamp in my passport for when I entered Greece because I entered via Iceland on 30 January. It was 26 April and I had 2 days left on my tourist visa.

For the record: US people have 90 days out of every 180 on a travel visa. Most people are unaware of this as they simply stamp your passport at the border, and let you in without any paperwork or anything. Most of the time, they don’t even say a single word to you. So I understand why this is not common knowledge.

Agent: “When did you enter Greece?”

Me: “I don’t remember, I entered the Schengen Zone at the end of January.”

Agent: “Wait over there.” After everyone else had gone through the line. “You’re going to Turkey?”

Me: “Yes.”

Agent: “When did you enter Greece?”

Me: “Hang on, I’ll check.” I opened the Hostelworld app to see when I checked into my first hostel in Greece. “6 February.”

Agent: “And when you’re done in Turkey, will you come back to Greece?”

Me: “No, I’ll move on.”

That seemed to satisfy her…sort of. She put an exit stamp in my passport, and let me continue to the ferry. There had been several times through the process when she’d stopped, and thought about what to do. She’d even ran off and talked to another agent before calling me back for the second time. I get the impression a lot of people exit Schengen then come right back, and overstay their allotted visa time. Anyway, I had escaped the border agent so all was well with the world.

An hour long ferry ride later, I arrived in Marmaris (Turkey). While standing in line to see the border agents, I saw a price list for visas for different countries. It made me glad I’d gone though the Turkish webpage, and bought my visa online as it saved me over $5. I also noted that it costs Canadians double that of other 1st world countries. Canada, what did you do?

When I got to the agent, he looked at my passport, checked online for my e-visa, stamped my passport and handed it back to me. He totally wasn’t interested in the e-visa copy I’d printed out; thanks, technology! Then I was directed to a bag scanner like the ones at airports. A quick scan later, and I was in Turkey. It was so much easier than I expected. Between the pseudo war between Greek and Turkish fighter planes over the Aegean, and all the news in the ‘west’ about how dangerous Turkey is; I expected more of a fuss.

News flash: I’ve been in Turkey for almost a week now, and I have always felt safe. Even safer than I’ve felt in the large cities in the US. As long as you don’t plan on going near the Syrian border, you should be fine.

I walked 20 minutes to the hostel. It was 25 degrees (77F), and I was carting around my backpack so I was pretty warm and a little tired when I arrived. I was greeted by a nice, old lady who insisted I sit down while she made me tea. The common area at Meltepe Pansiyon (pansiyon is Turkish for ‘guest house’ so almost all hostels, hotels, and lodging facilities have that word in the name) is gorgeous. There are small tables and chairs set up under a canopy of vegetation making it shady and cool.

When I was finished with the tea, I was shown to my room which was far better than expected. I’d booked a single bed room with a shared bathroom, but I was shown a two bed room with its own bathroom. The next day while talking to the owner, I was told he’d upgraded me; winning!

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Random shots of Marmaris, Turkey.

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The next few days were spent wandering around the city; mostly along the coastline, and through the grand bazaar. This city was built for tourists. It sits on a bay that’s largely cut off from the rest of the Mediterranean Sea. That makes the water a little warmer, and is why there’s a huge stretch of beach interspersed with a couple docks. All along the water sit a bunch of hotels, restaurants, and boat owners offering a plethora of tours.

The grand bazaar is also close to the water. It’s several blocks of shops. The roads are ‘closed’ to traffic (although they can’t completely keep motorcycles out, and covered which is a welcome relief from the hot sun.

There are also small, local buses all over the city. If you see one passing, you can even flag them down for a cheap ride (3 Turkish Lira, which is than $1). So getting around is very easy.

Having never been in a Muslim country before, I was a little surprised the first time I heard a ‘call to prayer’. There are megaphones all over the city that broadcast the voice of a priest singing in Arabic (at least I assume it’s Standard Arabic which is what the Quran is written in) several times a day. I was surprised again when I saw people continuing whatever they were doing rather than stopping to pray; even though I’m pretty sure most people are Muslim. Relatively secularized? I have no standard for comparison so I don’t know.

What I can say is I spent about half an hour one day talking to the pansiyon owner about Islam. He was quite sad to hear I’m atheist, and was concerned for my ‘soul’. One of the things he said is that God has to be proven logically which I agree with completely. Our conclusions turned out to be opposite, but the premise is dead on.

He also told me that heaven is like a castle with 1,000 gates. Each gate is only valid for a certain time period, and one can only enter through the gate that corresponds to their time on earth. For example before Christ, the gate was Judaism. After Christ, it was Christianity. And after Muhammad, it is Islam.

I found this fascinating as The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (The Mormon Church) also builds on the base of Christianity. I was curious to see what his thoughts on that would be, but I didn’t want to be rude so I didn’t mention that. I also didn’t want to start punching holes in his view as I was still trying to understand it. One must be aware of what they attempt to refute before coming to a conclusion.

Moving on, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Marmaris and the pansiyon. The owner and his mother (the woman that greeted my upon arrival) are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and are incredibly hospitable. When I would use the kitchen, the owner would poke his head in the door, and tell me he wanted me to treat his house like my own and that he wanted me to be comfortable. On the day I left, he even gave me a ride to the main bus station on the back of his motorcycle; saving me time and 3 Lira! If you ever go to Marmaris, I’d encourage you to look up Meltepe Pansiyon.

And now that I’ve talked your ear off…does that work with blogging? Anyway, until next time….

How to get a Turkish visa (as a US person)

I’m going to Turkey later this month so I figured it was about time I applied for my Turkish visa. The process was far simpler than I thought.

Disclaimer: This is just what I went through. Your experience may differ (though if you’re from the US, and there isn’t a war on, it probably won’t). If you don’t have a US passport, I would recommend checking out the Turkish government’s website.

So the first step is to gather a few things. You’ll need: your passport, a credit card, know approximately when you’re traveling. An important thing to note is your passport must be valid up to 60 days after your visa expires. The typical tourist visa is for 90 days so it will need to be valid for 150 days after you enter the country.

Then you’ll hit up the Turkish e-visa webpage. Enter your basic information. One of the things they ask for is your arrival date. This doesn’t have to be super accurate as long as you don’t show up before the date you specify. The e-visa is valid for 180 days, but you only get to spend 90 of it in country. The extra 90 days is a whole lot of padding (or it can accommodate multiple entries and exits).

After entering your basic information, an email will be sent to the address you specified. You need to follow the link in the email to continue on to the payment portion. For the payment portion, you’ll need a credit card. In some cases (like when I tried to use one of my Chase cards), the issuer will require additional information. If this happens, you’ll need to find another card as there’s no way to enter the additional information via the Turkish government’s website.

I was charged $20 and a $0.55 service fee so the total came to $20.55. This is a pretty good price, and people from a lot of other countries have to pay more.

After your payment has been processed, the webpage will provide you a link to download your e-visa. You’ll also be emailed a link to the e-visa so don’t fret if you click off the page. Download and print your e-visa, and you should be good to go. You will need a hard copy for when you arrive in Turkey as well as the usual travel document: your passport.

All things considered, it was a pretty simple process. The hardest part for me was finding a printer…well, and that hick-up with one of my credit cards, but that probably won’t happen to you.

If something funky happens at the border, I’ll come back and update this post. Otherwise, may you go forth and use this information to visit what I’m expecting to be an awesome country.