Jared in Turkey – Part Cinque

 WARNING:  THIS EMAIL CONTAINS SPIRITUAL INSIGHTS AND STUFF. BEWARE.

Today, I took my first bus ride during the day in Turkey, so I finally got to see some of the amazing countryside. This is probably the most picturesque country I have ever been to.  The mountains are so incredible and green, full of trees, and spotted with ancient stones.  From the road we traveled on, the hills sprawled forth, getting bigger as they got further away, finally giving way to massive mountains with green slopes and snow capped peaks.

The bus ride weaved its way through an entire range of this scenery, en route from Pamukale to Selcuk where I am now. Selcuk is a town near the coast of Turkey, a base from which to explore the ancient ruins of Ephesus, where I am going tomorrow. It is also the final resting place of St. John, author of a few books in the New Testament.

I was glad to leave Pamukale, as interesting as its calcium slopes and ancient ruins were….it just seemed a little desolate for my taste. The roads were barely paved and there were many abandoned hotels and almost no other travelers. I did encounter another traveling couple and spoke to them for a bit. But after a while, they revealed to me that they were on a mission from “The Lord” and were doing his work to spread the good news of the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.They became very insistent with me about the good news and quite zealously tried to “influence” me. I said that’s great and all, but I’ve already heard the story.

They intend to go to Israel next and spread the good news there…..I told them they wouldn’t be the first people to try that on the Jews. But I wished them well and put some distance between me and them, after refusing their offer to pray for me. No offense to anyone out there, but extremists of any kind rub me the wrong way….

As I am traveling, I am trying to have an “inner journey” as well as an actual journey. This involves being aware of what’s happening to you at all times, and allowing the experience to affect and change you. It’s about growth and evolution, both which were goals I established before I embarked on this trip. I guess I have not been too successful up until now, with fulfilling those goals.

It’s a scary thing to go across the world to a strange place, all alone, and allow yourself to be “blown by the wind”. So, I incorrectly opted to join a package tour that would provide structure so I didn’t have to find the courage to roam on my own. The last four days I have been on this tour, while I have seen many interesting things, have not been overly fulfilling.  I have decided from now on, not to book anything ahead or make any plans. I am just going to go, and see where the journey takes me. After all, the journey is the purpose, and not the destination. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I did have one very fulfilling experience in Istanbul that I neglected to share in my previous installments, which I shall now share. I had time during my last day before my bus left in the evening, so I decided I wanted to play guitar and sing in public. It would be the first time I would do this on this trip. Up until then, I was unsure of how the masses would react to me, and I didn’t want to offend anyone since it is a Muslim country and all. I didn’t know if people would flock around me or stone me to death….it was a gamble. But I took the chance.

I went to the lovely park that sits between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia, both majestic buildings, the site of which can be very inspirational. I took out my guitar and began to softly strum. The fear was there…”what will they think of me? Oh man, I am disturbing these people…..I should go”. But I suppressed the fear and just continued strumming. I saw a few people looking at me, and I just looked down, not wanting to make eye contact.

A few minutes later, a couple of Turkish guys came over and introduced themselves to me….I thought it was a ploy to sell a carpet, but they seemed very interested in the fact that I could play guitar and asked me if I sing to. I said yes, of course and they became even more excited and said, “Play Hotel California!” That’s a standard, and easy enough, so I put aside the fear and began playing it. Halfway through the song, one of the guys said, “You know, you are very good. I think we should move to a more public place, because you can make some money”. I said, “Ok, if you think so…”

So I followed them to a more visible area, right in front of the Blue Mosque where there were a few dozen people sitting around. The guy told me to open my guitar case so people could throw money into it…..I did….and immediately he put a few bills and change in. He charged me to begin playing….so I launched into “Let It Be”…..and immediately people began to turn around and look at me….many of them were smiling and listening intently….some young kids approached me and sat down next to me….more and more people gathered around to look at the strange foreigner singing at the top his lungs in front of one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

When I finished the first song, there was a round of applause! I couldn’t believe it. A bunch of people threw some change into my case, and the guy said, “Keep going!”  So, I did…and the crowd kept getting bigger and more people threw money into my case. The kids were dancing. Women in the traditional Muslim veils were smiling at me. Several of them took pictures of me. This whole scene lasted for about an hour until I had no voice left, and the crowd started to taper off. I was filled with happiness and fulfillment from this experience, and energized to do this much more often. It’s great to know that I can elicit that kind of reaction on the other side of the world. Plus, I made a million Lira….color me rich.

So now I am sitting in Selcuk at my hostel….so far this has been the nicest hostel…people are very friendly here, and I see some other backpackers so maybe I will meet some of them tonight. Tomorrow I shall tour Ephesus, the best preserved ruins of an ancient city in this country…..I am excited to see it. That’s about all…thanks for reading….

Jared

Jared in Turkey – Part Quatre

Greetings….this email will most likely contain many crazy characters instead of i. Oh well, it’s too frustrating to hit the other key when I am typing…so if you wanna get rid of them, paste the text into MS Word, do a search, and replace….

Here comes da news…

I spent my last day in Cappadokia just roaming around the town of Goreme. It’s a quaint little town, but there are almost no other backpackers there. It’s weird to walk around and see that I am the only foreigner. But it’s definitely a tourist town when the season is right.  I was the only one staying in my cave….kinda strange.

As I walked up and down the streets of Goreme, I couldn’t help but feel bad for all the shopkeepers who were just sitting around and doing nothing. Most of them looked at me pleadingly as I passed by, but what could I do? I think, because of the big earthquake last year, the tourist industry was badly hurt.

During the afternoon, as I was walking around, a man who owns a carpet shop called to me from across the street and invited me to come over to sit with him and have some tea. I knew this was a ploy to sell me a carpet, but I had nothing better to do at the time, so I joined him.

He served up some Chay (that’s what they call Tea here), and we chewed the fat for a while. In the course of conversation, I revealed that I was Jewish, and to my surprise, he claimed to be Jewish too. Immediately, I thought that was another ploy to try and shmooze me to buy a carpet. So, I started asking him questions about Israel and Judaism, and he didn’t know anything. Plus his name was Mohammed. That’s a nice name and all, but it’s definitely not one that Jewish parents would give their child…..so we drank tea and soaked up the sun, watching the dust of the town roll by.

Then he popped the question. “Why don’t you let me show you some of the carpets and Kilims I have available?” Boom. Well, I expected it….so I humored him for a bit as he made his pitch to me.  These guys are pros and make it very hard for you to leave without buying something, but I held my ground and made it back outside with no rugs. I spent the rest of the day finishing Exodus….a phenomenal book that I shall once again recommend.

Around 7:30am, I hopped on the bus to my next destination, a place called Pammukale.  This is a town that has many sights in and around for the tourist to gape at. I’ll get to it…but first, the bus ride. OY VEY. Another 10 hours on a bus….what the heck was I thinking when I signed up for this package?

First of all, a very drunk Turk who reeked of liquor had to sit in the seat across from me mumbling to himself half the time and snoring the rest of the time. To top it off, the entire stretch of road between Cappadokia and Pammukale was barely paved and full of bumps and pot holes the whole way. So, the bus was constantly hitting bumps, and it was quite uncomfortable and impossible to sleep. I felt like I was on a vibrating bed with wheels.  After 10 grueling hours of this, I arrived in Pammukale quite the agitated zombie. The shuttle took me to my hostel, and I immediately crashed.

I awoke at 9:45am to a knock at my door. A thick accented man was yelling at me that my tour bus was waiting outside for me. I bolted up and did a quick run through the necessaries and ran down to a van full of pissed off people, because I made them wait.  Oh well…that’s life.

Pammukale is actually very interesting, because there are sprawling ruins of an ancient Roman city called Hierapolis. As far as the eye can see, an entire mountainside is covered with broken columns, half standing pillars, evidence of once glorious structures, and Roman streets. There was also a well kept amphitheatre over looking the valley below the ancient city and beautiful snow capped mountains in the distance  We spent the morning roaming through these ruins and learning what they once were. Then the tour guide took us for lunch…which I was annoyed at because it turned out to be a rip off. They served salad, bread, rice, and potatoes. Almost entirely carbohydrates and zero protein. I felt like they were just too cheap when they tried to pass a bowl of potatoes off as a main course.

The afternoon was spent investigating the other main attraction here: Mountainsides entirely covered with beautiful white calcium deposits. Part of the attraction of the area to the Romans was the fact that natural hot springs bubble up amply in this region. The water is naturally carbonated with calcium-sulfate, and as the water poured down the mountain, over thousands of years, the calcium dried to form snow-like rivers of deposits.  Check of some pictures on the web. There are also many pools of hot springs, but most of them are not available for swimming, because they’ve been ruined by tourists over the years. Shame.

So now it’s late afternoon, and I am back at the hostel using their very slow and quite expensive Internet connection. Ironically, I have found the connections in Turkey to be painfully slow for a supposedly western country. They were much quicker in Bulgaria, a place that time left behind. Twist O’ Fate.

Later,

Jared

Jared in Turkey – Part Trois

Hey all! Wassup? I’ve been havin’ a blast these last few days….I decided to get out of Istanbul and see some of this fabulous country and lemme tell ya, there is a heck of a lot to see here. I signed up for one of those low budget package tour deals, which will send me to some pretty key spots in Turkey, then put me on a ferry to Greece at the end of it all.

I took another 12-hour bus ride from Istanbul to a place called Cappadokia, which is in the region of Anatolia in the center of the country. Ugh, the ride was way long, but somehow I managed to sleep, miraculously. I arrived in a town called Goreme at around 8:00 in the morning and was picked up by the tour company at the bus station. They dropped me off at my hostel, which turns out to be in a cave. Yep, a cave!

The deal with Cappadokia is that it’s an area formed out of volcanic ash and eroded over thousands of years to create these cone shaped, lava rock pillars all over the area. Since volcanic rock is soft, early settlers of this region, and then later the Byzantine Christians, carved all kinds of churches and cities into the rock itself so the area is full of caves and caverns all hewn by the hands of the ancients. It makes for some interesting sites, and people actually still live in the some of the caves….and they have also built houses out of them.

So, my hostel is in a cave. I felt like Fred Flintstone. I arrived and the hostel attendant showed me to my room, which I had to descend into. It was freezing cold, like your standard cave would feel. There was a musty smell coming from somewhere….at least there were Turkish rugs thrown over the floor. My bed was a pile of straw. Just kidding…it was an actual bed. I met a really cool married couple from Canada whom I hung out with for the next two days.

Our tour began at 9:30am. We spent the day exploring the region, and its many breathtaking panoramic views. We hiked around through valleys, going into some of the caves and seeing many of the well-preserved churches with amazing artwork still intact. We also visited a pottery making operation and got to see how all that works. In addition, we got to see how Turkish carpets are made. I was quite impressed with the process. It actually takes several months to a year of labor to produce just one carpet, depending on how elaborate the design is. I got to see the little old ladies in action. Of course, then they tried to get us to buy a carpet, but what the hell am I gonna do with one?

The weather is very cold here, to the point where I have to wear my hat and gloves. I have a space heater in my cave, but it didn’t do too much. On top of that, NO HOT WATER.  That doesn’t make your daily necessities very easy. But hey, I am sleepin in a cave for God’s sake. How many people can say they slept in a cave? That’s what I thought.

The next day, the tour guide took us to one of the underground cities. There are entire networks of caverns and rooms for a whole society, completely underground and carved out of the rock. We were told it took 1000 men 10 years to do it. Quite impressive.

The tour guide took us through very cramped tunnels that twisted and turned connecting the various rooms. We had to hunch over much of the time so as not to hit our heads. A couple of times I cracked my head against the rock ceiling and now I have a few bumps as souvenirs….ouch. A few times I started to get a little panicky when I saw how small the tunnel was, but I made it and was happy to have seen such an amazing creation. The afternoon was spent hiking through the valley of Ilhara and having lunch in a very ancient Turkish village by a stream. It felt like I was back in time. Some of these places haven’t changed for 1000 years.

The tour ended with a stop at a spot where a scene from the first Star Wars movie was filmed. When the guide said we would see where the movie was filmed, I was all excited, since I was obsessed with Star Wars for a long time…..I was all giddy thinking I’m gonna see where Obi Wan Kenobi scared the Sand People and saved Luke…… but it wasn’t too exciting….some more lava rock pillars and caves. But I was there man! I was there!

Anyway, that’s all for now. I can’t wait to get away from these Turkish keyboards. They stink. I’m going back to my cave now, where Wilma is cookin’ up some Brontosaurus burgers, and Barney’s coming over to chill….

Sorry I haven’t written to some of you, but I will as soon as the connections get better and I can find a decent keyboard…..but keep writing to me!

Jared

Jared in Turkey – Part Deux

WARNING:  PRETTY DANG LONG AND POTENTIALLY EDUCATIONAL. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. GET THE REAL STORY ON TURKSIH BATH HOUSES.

I want to write about my first two days in Istanbul. As you know, I arrived at 4:00 in the morning on Tuesday with the crazy cab ride through the back streets, all lost and stuff. OK…

I went to bed that night and awoke around 11:00am that morning. That was the first glimpse of Turkey I had in the daylight, and I soon found out just how beautiful Istanbul really is. From the window of my hostel room, I have a full view of the Aya Sophia, which is completely magnificent. I’ll get to that soon. I decided to dress and get started on my exploration.

The part of Istanbul I am in is called Sultan Ahmet. It’s basically tourist central. That’s where you got all the big attractions and most impressive structures. Sultan Ahmet is located in the Golden Horn section on the European side of Istanbul. If you were not aware, Istanbul straddles two continents – Europe and Asia. Separating the two sides is the Bosphorous River that is the only outlet from the Black Sea into the Sea of Mamara, which in turn is the only outlet into the Mediterranean, through the Dardinelle straights.

That makes Istanbul a very valuable city, since all traffic coming in and out of the Black Sea must pass through its center. That, of course, was the reason Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople on this site back in the 300s AD, later to become Istanbul when the Muslims took over in the 1400s. And that fact has been the reason for countless invasions, by the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Russians, Ottomans, and many others.  Each culture has left its mark on this city. So there’s a bit of history for you.

I started my first day with the aim of just roaming around to get my bearings. As I walked out of the hostel, not more than one minute later, I was approached by an over-friendly Turk who tried very hard to strike up a conversation with me – “What’s your name? Where are you from? Why are you in Turkey?”

I was immediately suspicious and hesitant to speak to him. I kept walking, but he followed alongside me. I cautiously engaged him in light conversation, only to find a few moments later that he was really just interested in selling me a Turkish carpet. That seems to be the huge business here, and I think a lot of tourists are getting conned into buying overpriced rugs, even if they are nice looking. I informed him I was not interested, and I am not going to buy a carpet. He said, “That’s ok my friend, if you just come to my shop, I can tell you all about Turkish carpets. If you don’t want to buy, it’s ok. We will have a cup of tea and maybe we’ll become friends”. I said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I just arrived, and I want to walk around. See ya.” I walked away.

As I approached the main section of Sultan Ahmet, I had to fight off the little kids trying to sell postcards and shoeshines. Clearly there is a thriving tourist industry here. I made my way through the crowds of tourist trappers, and behold before me was the magnificent Blue Mosque. I highly recommend looking it up to see some pictures of it. It is unbelievably beautiful. It has six towering Minarets with huge domes made from stone and silver. Five times a day, the call to prayer roars forth from these towers, which you can hear it across the city.

The structure is so immense that its presence completely overshadows everything else in the landscape. Muslims sure do know how to build their houses of worship. I took my shoes off, according to Muslim law, and went inside.The interior is equally as impressive.  The floor is lined with hand-woven carpets, and the room is completely open and is the size of the structure itself. Bluish tiles cover the ceiling and walls, adorned with Arabic writing of passages from the Koran. After gazing upward in marvel for nearly half an hour, I put my shoes back on and went outside.

I sat down on the benches in the courtyard of the Mosque and was again approached to buy a carpet. I made it clear that I was not interested, but the guy seemed genuine, so I ended up speaking to him for about an hour. His name was Ali. We talked about life in Turkey. I asked him what it was like to be here during the big earthquake. “Very scary”, he said. It turns out that nearly 50,000 people died, far more than the press reported. I can’t imagine what it must have been like. Turkey seems very modern, although that was not the impression I had of this place before I came.

After I left Ali, I decided to go to the Aya Sophia. Again, this structure is immense; even bigger than the Blue Mosque and far older. It was first built back in the 300s, but had to be rebuilt a few times due to earthquakes. Look it up to see some pictures. The building has gone through many changes over the years, because of i’s conversion from a church to a mosque, but the interior is quite amazing. Inside, there is a dark feel and coldness in the air. The floor is made of ancient stone with large pillars supporting very high domes. It was in this building that each Byzantine Emperor was crowned. The ceiling is full of Christian mosaics, as well as Islamic art that was painted over many of the original mosaics. They have been working to restore much of the art that was painted over throughout the years. Many battles took place in and around the Aya Sophia. Enough of that.

Next, I decided to check out the Grand Bazaar. This is an immense network of narrow indoor streets with arched ceilings lined with store after store of clothing, bags, Turkish rugs, giant water pipes, hand drums, chess sets, swords, and different types of food and teas. Most of the stores sell exactly the same thing as all the others, which is a shame, because you can spend hours roaming the corridors, not really seeing anything unique. The shopkeepers are very zealous and constantly beckoning you to enter. “Good deal!  Good deal, my friend! Come inside, please, come!”  I actually did get lost and ended up on the other side, with no clue how to get back to the hostel. I asked for some directions with a lot of hand gestures and finger pointing, I made my way back.

That night I hung out at the hostel and ate dinner in the cafeteria. That’s when I met a few people. There are a wide variety of nationalities represented here – Australians, Americans, Dutch, Spanish, and French, to name a few. We all hung out and got drunk in the pub. I played some guitar with a Turkish fellow who also played. The beer went to my head, and I had to hit the hay around 11:00………

Next Day:

I awoke to a determination:  I am in Turkey. I must have a Turkish bath.

Who has not heard about a Turkish bath? Everyone has, but like most people, I had no idea what it consisted of. I got a recommendation from the hostel on where to go for a good one. They pointed me towards a reasonably priced Haman, bathhouse, and I set out.

The bathhouse I went to was over 300 years old. The building looked very ancient, and it was domed like much of the architecture here. I descended into the bathhouse and was greeted by a nice man named Habib who spoke very little English. I was taken up to a small room where I was told to get into my birthday suit and wrap a towel around my waist. He then led me downstairs through a wooden door into the main bath chamber. The air was very hot, like a sauna, and extremely humid. I could immediately feel water droplets condensing on my skin. The main bath chamber is a circular room, all made of grayish-blue marble – the walls, the floor, the ceiling, everything.

The walls were again adorned with Arabic writing and the perimeter of the room was lined with marble water basins with faucets for hot and cold. In the center of the room, there was a giant marble platform, hot to the touch. The floor had little trenches for water drainage. There were also some smaller rooms off the main room with the same sorts of water basins and hot marble. It was dark, but there were small circular windows in the ceiling to let some light in. A very Gothic mood. Picture Indiana Jones.

There were two other people there, getting the treatment, so I had a pretty good idea what I was in for.  I sat on the marble platform for a while, just soaking it up, sweating profusely. After a while I began to wonder where the guy went. Finally he came back, and we got started. The first portion of the bath consists of a massage. Oh man, that hurt. These guys do not hold back. They literally kneed your flesh as if it were dough and pound your back with their fists, working every inch of your body. But, it felt pretty good when it was over.

Then, he broke out a sandpaper like scrub brush and began to sand every inch of my flesh, except a few important parts. I felt like a piece of wood getting smoothed down. The purpose, apparently, is to remove all your dead skin. Sorry if I am too graphic, but most of you will never have a Turkish bath, so read on. After the scrubbing, I laid on the marble platform, then he dumped large amounts of soapsuds on me, entirely covering me. I must have looked like one big sud to the onlooker.

Then, he began lathering me quite forcefully, really digging in, if you know what I mean.  Every inch. Unfortunately, the soap got in my eyes, so they burned for a while and were red for the rest of the morning. When he was done with the suds, he took me over to one of the basins on the side and sat me down. Bucket after bucket of warm water was dumped on me to rinse off the suds. Then it was over. I was all wet and in a daze.

I felt cleaner than ever and ready for a nice nap. He left me lying on the marble to take my time. When I felt ready, I went out the wooden door and was toweled off and sent back up to my little room to get dressed. I found my way outside and stumbled back to the hostel where I subsequently collapsed on my bed, giggling to myself that I actually had a Turkish bath. The real thing. So, that’s about all I have to say about Turkish baths.

After resting up, I made my way outside again, wanting to see a few more of the standard sights. First, I went to the Underground Cistern. This is an underground, obviously, network or water channels used to bring water to the main palace.It was built by the Romans, way back when. Descending into the main chamber, I was greeted by soft classical music and cold, damp air. The cistern is actually a vast open room about the size of a football field, full of Roman columns and arched ceilings. About two feet of water covers the floor, and there are platforms on which you walk throughout the cistern, gazing at the columns and feeling the mood.

It was pretty cool, but got old quickly. The main attraction are two columns that have giant Medusa heads as their base. I actually got into a bit of an argument with a tour guide who was talking to her group near the Medusa columns. I was standing near her group as she was talking, just looking at the columns and minding my business. Then all the sudden she asks me to move away from them! As if I were some sort of security threat, or I was invading her group. I said, “Ma’am, I paid my 3 million Lira, and I am looking at these columns”, and she said, “Well, we were here before you, and you have to wait until we are finished. That’s how it works!” I said, “You don’t own these columns. You don’t even work here. You are just a tour guide. Who are you to tell me what to do?”  But, in order to avoid a scene, I complied. Exit cistern.

This is getting pretty long already, so I will cut some details.

Next, I went to see the Topkapi Palace, which was the seat of the Ottoman Empire. I got see where all the sordid stuff went down. Those Sultans had lots of concubines, and they threw some massive “parties.” The palace is a very holy place to Muslims, because it contains many unique Islamic treasures, such as the tooth and hair of the Prophet Mohamed, as well as a letter he wrote, and some other stuff.

After the palace, I decided to walk until I could walk no more. I ended up going all the way down to the riverfront, walking along its edge, heading towards a bridge that crosses the river to Asia. Again, I had to fight off the little kids trying to sell me a shoeshine. A whole pack of them followed me for 15 minutes. “Shoeshine? Shoeshine? Good price Mister.  Where you from?” I clicked my tongue at them, which is the Turkish sign for NO, but they kept insisting. Then, one of them ran in front of me and in a flash, wiped some shoe polish on my sneaks. That made me angry. I started yelling, and they ran away. Too bad … I would have liked to catch one…..

It was a long walk to the bridge across the river, but I finally arrived and made the dramatic crossing to Asia. From the bridge, there are some breathtaking views of the city. The bridge is lined with fishermen who will catch you one and fry it up on the spot for a few million Lira. After my dramatic crossing, I went back to the Grand Bazaar and roamed around there for a while. I ended up jamming with a Turk at one of the shops that sold the hand drums. Fun stuff.

Tonight, I am leaving on a package tour for 5 days around Turkey….I’ll give ya all the details as it happens.

OK, I am fried and I am sure the few of you who actually read this whole thing are fried too.  I’ll let ya go. One thing:  A lot of people have said to me, “Why do you spend so much time writing? Get out and explore!” Well, first of all, I only spend an hour a day, or so, writing, so it’s not that much. This writing is very important to me, because when my trip is over, I will have a very thorough journal of my travels. Second of all, when you are alone in a strange place, it’s comforting to communicate with your friends and family. But, don’t worry, I am spending plenty of time exploring. Internet cafes are everywhere, including in my hostel, so access is very easy.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy these things as much as I do. Sorry if there are any more funny looking ý thýngýes….çþöðü…

Jared

Jared in Turkey

I packed my bags last night, pre-bus ride. Zero hour, 4:00am, and I’m gonna be iiiinnnnnnn Istanbul by then.

Hello everyone! I have arrived in Istanbul! OR is it Constantinople? Istanbul or Constantinople? I guess that’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

What a bus ride! We left Varna at 5:00pm yesterday and set out for a 12-hour tour. The weather started getting rough. It was snowing like mad as we passed through the mountains of southern Bulgaria by way of a very windy road…..the tiny bus was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, we may have tumbled off the mountainside, but we didn’t. I was crammed against the window with an old man next to me the whole way. He smelled like pencil shavings – 12 hours! Never take a 12-hour bus ride. It got dark quickly, so I didn’t get to see much of the picturesque landscape and that bums me out. Oh well. Then the fun started!

We arrived at the Bulgarian border, and the border patrol collected all of our passports. I was very nervous about surrendering my passport, but everyone else was doing it, so I thought it would be ok. They made us get off the bus and unload all of our luggage. They then proceeded to open each and every bag and examine the contents. What fun. I guess they were trying to catch those infamous Bulgarian smugglers in the act.

After we passed the Bulgarian border, we turned the corner and voila the Turkish border. They made us all get off the bus and go inside and stand in line to be checked in. When I got to the window, I was informed that I needed a Visa, and I couldn’t enter the country without it. No big deal…I knew that was coming…so I went around the corner and greased the palm of the border guy with 45 hard earned bucks. He slapped a sticker on my passport that said I was good to go.

Back on the bus. Oops, back off the bus cuz the Turks wanted to look at our bags too. We stood there for another hour as they opened each and every bag to examine the contents. Back on the bus. Six hours to go. Will it ever end? I dozed at some point and awoke to find us passing through some smaller towns on route to Istanbul.

Turkey looks like a pretty modern country! I could see the rows upon rows of very nice looking townhouses that we passed along the way. Everything looks new and modern, from the roads to the gas stations to the shops and larger outlet stores. It could very well be Israel or certain parts of America. The distinctive thing, though, is the towering Minarets (where the call to prayer is given) that protrude from the top of very beautiful mosque in each town. Don’t forget, this is a Muslim country.

We arrived at the modern looking bus station in Istanbul at about 4:00am. I was so wiped out, and I didn’t know what to do at that point. A lot of people were waiting in a room in the bus company’s office for their next bus, so many people offered to wait with me. I thought about it and said NO. I decided to make it for the hostel via taxi. Ohhhh taxis in Istanbul. Crazier than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

My driver did not speak a word of English, so it was very difficult to tell him where I needed to go. All I had was an address and a vague idea of where my hostel was…in the Sultan Ahmet section of town, right near the Aya Sofia (see previous letter). The guy had no idea where it was, so we spent half an hour weaving around the ancient streets of Istanbul.

No one was out at the time, so it seemed like a ghost town. I kept thinking, oh my God, it’s 4:30am, and I am lost in the back streets of Istanbul. Freaky. But we passed a lot of very large and beautiful structures, then we came to Aya Sofia. Extremely beautiful from the outside. After asking directions a few times, the driver found my hostel. He then tried to cheat me by quoting a higher price than what I was told at the bus station. I didn’t fall for it.

Enter hostel. Pretty decent. I got a single room…a little grungy with a sink…no bathroom…down the hall. The window was open, and it was absolutely freezing. I shut it and kicked on the heater, bundled up, and went to sleep.

By the way, I am a millionaire in Turkey. Of course that doesn’t mean much. The dollar is equal to 570,000 Turkish lira. So I got about 20 million. I’m loaded.

There ya go. The story of how I got to Turkey. You’ll hear much more soon…..

Jared

Jared in Bulgaria – The End

Yo, my people, what it be?

I am sitting in an Internet center in Varna, Bulgaria on the coast of the Black Sea (“Cherno Moreh” in Bulgarian). This will be my final transmission from this country, because this afternoon I am hopping on a 12-hour bus ride to Istanbul, Turkey. I am so very excited for several reasons:  1)  To leave Bulgaria;  2) To strike out on my own, finally; and  3) I have always wanted to go to Istanbul.

Ahhh, Bulgaria, will I ever return to grace thine rolling hills of dead vegetation and run down cities full of poor and desperate people? Nope. I don’t think so. If any of you have been considering planning a trip here, don’t. Even though it’s dirt-cheap, and you can live like a king on $500 a month, there ain’t much going on round these parts.

But, for the last few days, I have been living it up in a pretty nice hotel right on the beach of the Black Sea. I went for some walks, played a lot of guitar, and spent hours upon hours reading Exodus. I am absolutely fascinated by this book, and it has stirred within me an even deeper love for Israel. I have learned things about the creation of Israel, which I never knew. I highly recommend this book.

So, today I leave Bulgaria behind, probably forever. I hope my dad doesn’t move here, because I don’t think I will ever see him again. I am trying to persuade him to move to Israel. Cross your fingers, everyone. I will be arriving in Istanbul at 4:00am. What the heck am I going to do in Istanbul at 4:00 am? I have no clue.

I made a reservation at a youth hostel right near the Aya Sofia, a very ancient church – turned mosque – turned museum, dating back to the 500’s of this era. I will do as much reporting about Istanbul as I can, because from what I hear, it is one of the most incredible places in the world.

Everyone, please keep writing to me. It will help me stay grounded when I am completely alone on the other side of the world. Alone in Turkey. What have I gotten myself into? But I am sure it will be amazing, and I will meet tons of people at the hostels. From Istanbul, I will be heading down the west coast of Turkey to the ruins of Ephesus, an ancient Greek city from New Testament times. From there, I will be crossing the Aegean Sea, hitting some Greek Islands, most likely Santorini and Mykonos. If anyone has any suggestions, send them on over.

That’s about it. Thanks for following me around Israel and Bulgaria, hearing all about my dad and stuff. From here on in, it’s just me, so we’ll see what kind of trouble I can stir up in this part of the world. Hope I don’t end up in a Turkish prison!

Jared