Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Trip To Two Entirely Different Places

This weekend, Johnny* and I decided to take a trip to Bergama and the surrounding area.  Bergama is a small city north of Izmir that includes some fantastic Hellenistic ruins.  For some reason, it lacks the popularity of Efes (Ephesos for you Greeks out there).  Efes is a well-preserved and compact site near Izmir, and is appropriately packed (or so I hear) with tourists, at least in the summer.  The main site of Bergama, on the other hand consists of acres of dilapidated stone structures over an entire mountain.  The situation of the site on a mountain an hour from anywhere makes it pretty inhospitable obese cruise and tour bus crowds.  For two spry college students however, the site made for four or five hours of great hiking all over ruins, complete with a great view of the city and surrounding city and lake (I’ll have pictures up soon).  As an added bonus, in return for avoiding the 5km road and walking straight up the mountain (past ruins the whole way) we got to bypass the ticket booth.  To be honest, the site was worth a whole lot more than the $6 entrance fee, but we weren’t going to go 5km out of our way to pay it.

After returning from the ruins to the town and rewarding ourselves with crepe-like gözleme (our two hosts in the empty restaurant were apparently so serious about their signature dish that they got indignant when we asked to see a menu) we had a bit of a conundrum.  Our original plan for the night was to go couchsurfing** in a nearby city.  Unfortunately, our host had to decline because he had lost his job and was living with his parents.  We could have gone to the same city for the night, but we were sort of ruin-ed out, and the weather wasn’t nice enough for the nearby beach.

Now one of the best parts of travel inside Turkey is the overnight bus system.  It has been my primary mode of inter-city transportation here and is really deserving of an entire blog post.  In any city, you can just walk in a bus station, find a booth for a company that goes to your destination (if looking for city names on the signs over each booth is too hard, there are pushy men to help), bargain down the price, and get a ticket.  The bus ride itself is comfortable and features nicer seats and much better service than coach flights.  Considering that the overnight bus costs as much as a cheap hotel and you wake up somewhere else Johnny and I decided to skip the hotel idea altogether and catch the bus to Konya for the night.

Konya is the fifth-largest city in Turkey and the most religious.  It is famous for the Mevlevi religious sect, better known as the whirling dervishes.  Though we did not get to see any dervishes, we did visit the sect’s museum, which was pretty good despite failing to live up to the guidebook’s assertion that it was “one of the most gratifying experiences in Turkey.”  Besides the museum, the rest of the day was seemingly spent in conversations with the friendly people with Konya.  At 5:30 AM, for instance, we went to bus station café for some coffee (we had assumed the bus ride would have been longer).  The waiter asked where we were from, and when we told him America, he started asking about the Armenian Genocide issue.  We managed to give him some excuses about politicians trying to get the votes of Armenian-Americans and he seemed placated.  
He brought us a free round of tea, and we talked for another hour and a half.

Our next extended conversation was a little strange.  On our way back from the museum, we met a carpet dealer (his name escapes me, as does the contact information he gave me).  We talked for a bit and he invited us in for tea.  Though under most circumstances we would have refused, the guy seemed genuinely friendly and interesting, and we had nothing much planned for the rest of the day.  We spent two hours drinking excessive amounts of tea and chatting.  Our dealer had reportedly started selling carpets at 13 years old and had worked himself into the wholesale business.  He also to have sold a carpet to the US ambassador (we actually saw said ambassador during our Kuwaiti reception) and to have translated for King Juan Carlos of Spain on an Ibex hunting trip.  I still have no clue how much of what this guy said was truth, but he seemed to have pretty well-thought stories and written documentation pertaining to his part time job as a hunting translator.  At about the two hour mark, he said something like “I would be happy to keep on chatting, but if you want to buy a carpet, I can sell you one for a good price.”  Johnny had been looking for a tapestry, so he said he would take a look.  The tapestries were beautiful, but with a “no bargain” price of 130TL.  Having bargained for everything from bus tickets to backpacks, we went to work complaining that the tapestries were not that nice, arguing that we were so poor that we were eating mostly bread (this was partially true, since everyone in Turkey eats mostly bread, but the dealer begged us not to use that argument) and threatening to walk out.  With a final price of 80TL, or 60% of the starting price, I decided to buy one for myself.  We walked out, still not sure if we had a good deal, but assured that the four hours of entertainment and 7 cups of tea were worth at least 20TL.  We spent the rest of the day at the bazaar and the central park, and took the night bus home.

The overall moral of the trip is that our Turkish is getting better, and it really helps.  Away from tourist attractions (bazaars, bus stations, buses, parks, etc.) we are frighteningly popular simply by being from America and speaking some Turkish.  In touristy places, we get a huge leg up.  In Bergama, when a taxi driver told us that we would never make it to the ruins without his help, we told him off in Turkish, and hailed the dolmuş into the center of town.  This all said, we need to start checking what time busses arrive at their destination.  Waking up at 5 AM in Konya was a little irritating, and I think I only stopped feeling tired yesterday.

*Currently going by John, since Johnny is a nickname for an American soldier in Turkey.  Also, John (spelled “Can”) is a common Turkish name.

**Couchsurfing is a like a cross between hitch-hiking and finding a hotel, all made possible by the internet.  Users create profiles and obtain references that they are not serial killers, from which they can ask other strangers to put them up for the night.  The system works pretty well, and I have a bunch of friends that have either hosted or traveled through couchsurfing.


  1. The reason Bergama is not as popular as Ephesus is that there was no Pauline epistle with that name, even if early versions of Ephesians make no reference to the city.

  2. Ephesus also shares its name with Efes, the more-or-less official beer of Turkey. I'm pretty sure that's not why its a popular destination though.