23 April 2011

Talkin' Turkey [Turkey Part II]

Leaving Pamukkale I had my first positive bus experience. Well, I cannot complain about the frequency and punctuality, but my travelling companions have been less than ideal. The bus from Pamukkale to Selcuk was slick - leather seats, TV screens in the headrests... they even had a guy bring around snacks and coffee! And no huge smelly dude sitting beside me... win!

I had been recommended a hostel that was out of the city center, but apparently worth the hassle. And I must agree. Atillas Getaway is one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. The facilities are fairly average, and the location is... well, crap. But it has a great atmosphere. There is a huge outdoor area with an awesome bar, pool table, nice couches to relax in... And the owner, Atilla, is just a freakin cool guy. At night he lights a big fire and people just hang around, chat and have a drink. Good times.

The main reason for my visit to Selcuk was to visit the ruins of Ephesus. You would think I had seen enough ruins by now, but I had been told they were pretty spectacular... And they lived up to the hype. The most impressive being the Library of Celsus and the long road leading up to it - with massive ruins on either side. But the whole area is pretty cool. Euphesus also contains the largest theatre in the ancient world!. As well as a whole bunch of shops selling Genuine fake watches! Nice.

Next on my plan was Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey. I had organised a host - Suleyman - a cool (and extremely hospitable) Turkish guy. I arrived into Izmir bus station and was completely confused as to how to get to Suleymans house. Let me take a minute to fill you in on what I have learned about the bus system in Turkey... some information that would have been useful about a week ago. Most cities (that I have visited anyway) have a large bus station that is located on the very outskirts of the city. Most bus companies then run smaller buses into the city you can use for free (shuttles). But of course there is no information about when and where these run, and the Turks English skills are well below par (but hey, I can't complain! I don't know Turkish). Then there are the dolmus, or minibus, that run from the bus station. They are like a normal bus service and run normal routes. These you have to pay for. The problem I struck in Izmir was that I could not find where the free bus departed from. The station is like a maze, with all the different buses departing from different areas. I finally found where I wanted to be, but the company who I had taken the main bus with weren't running a smaller one into the city. Or at least that is what I think the guys at the information desk were trying to tell me. They tried to get me on another companies bus, but they weren't having it. After some negotiation they finally got me on the bus and I was on my way.

That afternoon Suleyman had to work, so I met up with his friends Yukari and Guclu, and their couch surfer Animesh. We drove around the city, up to the castle which had some amazing views, to the university district, before ending up back at their house for a coffee and chat. Later I met Suleyman for a beer before calling it a night.

The following day was without doubt the second worst day on my trip so far - only being robbed on day one beats it. I literally spent the whole day either on buses or waiting for buses. I had planned to visit Pergamon, an ancient city to the north of Izmir. I got up relatively early and went down to catch a bus to the central bus station. I am not really sure why, but the central bus station does not seem to be very well connected by normal public transport - only the free shuttles run by the bus companies, and you can only use them if you have already bought a long-distance ticket. I waited for an hour for a bus that never came. During this time I finished the book I was reading and realised that I had left my mp3 player at Suleymans. Perfect, nothing while the time away. I cut my losses and decided to just jump on the next bus going to town. I got off in the center of town, where I though there may be a better connection to the bus station. I found an office for one of the major bus companies, and decided to call in and ask. I bought a ticket for that evenings journey to Cappadokia, as well as a ticket for Pergamon. They said that a shuttle would be along in 30 minutes to pick me up and take me to the main bus station.

I got to the main station and had to wait only about 10 minutes for the main bus. By this time it was 12:30. My bus to Cappidokia left at 8pm (7pm for the free connection shuttle bus), and while on the way to Pergamon I started to realise that I didn't really have a lot of time to spare. It is only 90 minutes between Izmir and Pergamon, but when I returned to Izmir at the end of the day I had to go all the way back to Suleymans house, pick up my bag, then make my way back to the station once more. I worked out that I would have only about two hours to expore Pergamon.

The bus arrived into Pergamon about 20 minutes late. I went into the station and there was an info desk (unusual) with an attendant fluent in English (VERY unusual). Turns out that the bus station in Pergamon is also on the outskirts of town, and the free shuttle bus that connects with the city had just left. I would need to take a dolmus (minibus). It was 2:30pm.

While in the station I re-looked at my timing. I needed to be at the bus stop near Suleymans house with all my bags, ready to go, by 7pm. So I wanted to be back at Suleymans by 6:30, meaning I needed to be at Izmir central bus station at 6. To get there on time I had to take a bus at 4:30pm (latest) from Pergamon. The closest return bus was at 3:45pm. I bought a ticket.

I then waited for the dolmus... for about 20 minutes. It was almost 3pm when it finally came. I needed to be on a return bus at 3:45!! So I thought screw it, it is not worth the risk to go into Pergamon and possibly not make it back in time. I then tried to change my ticket to Izmir to the bus leaving at 3pm, but apparently it was full, just my luck. So I sat and waited, with no book to read or music to listen to.

My bus came, and left about 10 minutes late. We arrived in to Izmir about 20 minutes late. I went to the same place I had gone the day before to get the free shuttle bus to the city. But they were not running it (or at least that is what I think the guys there were saying). I had no idea how to get back to the house by any other means. I went and asked at one of the bus companies, but communication was extremely difficult. Besides that, all I had was the name of the bus stop. I tried to show them with the GPS on my phone, but just as I pulled it out it went flat. ARGHHH! In the end one of the staff from the bus company was leaving, so they told me to follow her. I had no idea where she was leading me; to the dolmus? The normal public transport bus, or the free bus. (Confusing, right?). It turns out we went to the dolmus, and I just had to trust in the fact that they knew where I wanted to go. It was 6pm.

The dolmus is possibly the slowest form of transport. It makes a million stops, and goes through all the tiny side-streets that are packed with people and traffic. I was on that bus for 50 minutes. The whole time stressing balls. When it finally stopped at the final stop I did not recognise anything around me. The driver pointed down the street and I sprinted.

I came to a T intersection and still did not recognise anything. I called in to a pharmacy and they pointed left. Again, I sprinted. After a couple of minutes I finally recognised where I was. But it was 6:55pm, and my bus left at 7.

Inside Suleymans house he had the unfortunate job of informing me that it was hopeless. The bus station was a good 15 minutes walk. It was gone. A shit end to a shit day. I went out on to the balcony to get some fresh air, and Suleyman called the bus company to try and swap my ticket to the following day. A minute later I heard a yell from inside the house "PACK YOUR STUFF, THEY ARE GOING TO WAIT FOR YOU!". I ran in, threw everything in my bag, and Suleyman and I flew down the stairs and into a cab.

We were at the stop by 7:10pm and the bus had not even arrived yet! About a minute later it pulled up, I said a quick goodbye to Suleyman, and was on my way. Maybe my luck was changing? But I wasn't going to relax just yet - I had made my shuttle bus to Izmir bus station, it did not mean I was going to make the bus to Cappidokia.

We arrived at the main station at 7:50pm. I quickly sorted out my bag, found my mp3, went to buy some food (I hadn't eaten since 11 and was starving), and used the bathroom. I made it on the bus with about 2 minutes to spare.

So I am now on my way to Cappadokia - I hope it is worth all the trouble

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