Two weekends ago, I went on my first trip out of Greece to Istanbul, Turkey.
And it all started with a 15 hour bus ride.
^Ally and I starting our bus adventure
Which I thought was a great idea at the time but by the time we finally made it to Istanbul, I had a slight change of heart. I will relay the adventures that happened on our bus trip.
It all started Thursday afternoon with trying to finish up all my homework for the weekend so I could just enjoy being in Turkey and trying to pack my small bag (I really detest packing and trying to figure out what I may or may not need). It took us a while to find the location of the bus as we had to take the Metro to a very industrial area of Athens and one that was not fond of using street signs. After being turned around in the correct direction by some police officers and walking for about 15 min, we finally made it to the bus with 10 minutes to spare. The bus driver and attendants did not really speak English so we were more or less on our own trying to figure things out. However, they did speak Greek so with our minimal Greek we were able to communicate…sort of. I was actually quite surprised by how nice the bus was. It was pretty much an airplane on the ground with comfortable seats, a good amount of leg room, and personal televisions for each passenger (granted all the shows were either in Turkish or Greek). Just about every hour there was an attendant who would come by and ask if we needed anything to drink and gave us some snacks. We stopped about every 3 hours either to get off for bathroom breaks, to grab food, or to pick up some more passengers. Thankfully, the bus wasn’t very crowded so Ally was able to grab the seats behind me and we were able to spread out with more space. We finally reached the border around 3:00am and had to be rudely awakened as I had only fallen asleep two hours prior. We honestly had no idea what was going on but had to give our passports to the officer waiting at the bus door as we got off. Ally and I were the only Americans on the bus and I got a strange look as I gave him my passport. As he took it, he asks in a gruff voice “You’re American?” and I reply, “Yes.” After viewing my student visa, he asks “You’re studying in Greece?” and I reply, “Yes.” and he just waves me off. I was getting nervous that he wasn’t going to approve my passport and then I would have taken an 8 hour bus ride for nothing and have to be shipped back. We then had to go through passport police and after waiting at the end of the line for almost 30 minutes in 32 degree weather, the officer takes one glance at Ally’s passport and asks “Where is your visa (for Turkey)?” We then realize that in order to get our vistor visas we needed to go to another kiosk, which no one thought to tell us! We made it to the correct kiosk, the elderly man there flirted with us (we think) and blew us kisses as we headed back to the police and all we could do was laugh because we were so tired. Finally, we passed through and were officially in Turkey Then it was another 3 hours until we made it to Istanbul. They kept introducing the stops in Turkish so Ally and I had no idea what was going on, and before we could get off at the first stop because we thought it was where we were supposed to get off, the bus started moving again. Ally and I slightly panicked because we didn’t know where it was taking us but couldn’t do anything so ended up going along for the ride. It ended up working out that we were still on it because the bus dropped us off where the metro station was (though we didn’t know it at the time). Then we get off and look completely lost so just sort of wandered until we came across a lady and I asked if she spoke english…she didn’t really but I give here my piece of paper with the address of where we wanted to go and she says Taxi and points us in the right direction. So we go that way and taxi people start shouting to us if we need a taxi, which we really didn’t want to take a taxi because I knew we could take the metro. Then this wonderfully nice man who didn’t speak any english, saw us in distress and asked “Metro?” and we were like “YES!” so he leads us to the metro. Then, we realize that the metro doesn’t take Euros…and the man who left us sees us fumbling around again and comes back to attempt to ask what was wrong and I was like…Euro? and he just gave us this look like “oh you dumb girls” but he was still nice enough to lead us through the terminal to the money exchange area! Then he said here and walked off with a wave. I was just so happy I could have hugged him. So then we get the correct money and make our way back to the token machine, get our token and then go through only to realize that the side that says the way we need to go is roped off and we were like REALLY? The sign was in turkish but it seemed to say it was closed from 7am-9am. It was 8:30am so we were like well, we will just have to wait…But then I decided to go and ask the security lady who was standing next to us and she told us we could just take the other stairway down. So we made it onto the metro in the correct direction. After getting off the metro, we had to transfer to the tram…but we were not sure at all how to get to the tram. A nice police officer comes up to us and asks where we are trying to go. I show him my paper with the directions and he asks us where we are coming from, he was quite surprised to hear we are from the USA. He gives us the directions to the tram and we make it there! We get off the tram at the right stop, and find ourselves looking at the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque…and we were awe-struck. I still cannot find the words to describe this moment.
^Our room in the hostel
^Standing in front of the Hagia Sophia
^Ally, Christina and me in front of the Blue Mosque
We wandered for about 30 min trying to figure out the way based on my instructions and are just standing on the corner looking at my map…until another nice parking man comes up to us and asks if we need help. Turns out we were going in the right direction and he just pointed us to the correct place and we FINALLY MADE IT! We were able to check in, and even go up to the roof and get free breakfast, which was much needed and appreciated. By this point, Ally and I were quite delirious and I looked a complete mess. I even had Ally take a photo of me to see how horrible my hairdo was but I couldn’t care enough to fix it.
^Slightly delirious and not caring about my hair
We napped for a few hours until our two friends and roommates, Jeni and Christina, met up with us to start exploring. We went to the Grand Bazaar, Süleymaniye Mosque, and then went out for dinner and hookah (because we were in Turkey and felt that we couldn’t leave without trying hookah). The Süleymaniye Mosque was definitely my favorite because it wasn’t as touristy as the Blue Mosque and was absolutely beautiful. We were able to stay and observe the prayer, which was another indescribable moment.
^Ally, Christina and me sitting in Süleymaniye Mosque
^Ally, Jeni and me about to enter the Grand Bazaar
^At the Hookah bar, where Ally is clearly uncomfortable with the owner who also claimed I was Asian and she was American.
Saturday began with booking a dinner cruise on the Bosphorus (that we dubbed the Booze and Cruise because it was unlimited alcoholic beverages) and then heading to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. I remember learning about these structures in every art history class I have ever taken and also remember claiming if only I could see them some day. I never expected to be given this amazing opportunity to ACTUALLY see them. It took my breath away. From here, we walked to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, walked across the Galatta Bridge, bought fresh squeezed juice from a street vendor, did some shopping and ran back to our rooms to prepare for dinner. There was a bus that came and picked us up from our hostel and took us to the dock. When we walked onto the boat, we were the first ones there and were surprised by how nice it was! We were served a very delicious buffet dinner and dessert, had unlimited drinks, watched traditional dances of Turkey (including a belly dancer), were brought up stage to join in the dancing, and went up to the top deck to see the amazing sights on the water. The same bus brought us back to our hostel and our bus driver (who was at least 70 years old) turned the bus into a party bus when we were the only ones left by blasting the American Music and all four of us just laughed hysterically and danced around. We are convinced that the bus driver took a longer route to get to our hostel so we could continue dancing around. We made it back to the hostel around 12:30 and immediately passed out.
^Interior of Hagia Sophia
^Jeni and Christina inside the Blue Mosque
^At the Spice Bazaar
^Christina drinking apple tea (my new favorite thing) and me trying to decide which teacup to buy (too many options!) in the Spice Bazaar
^Successful photo bomb on the Galatta Bridge
^Drinking our delicious fresh squeezed juice
^Jeni and I on the dinner cruise
^Ally and I up on the top deck of the boat
Sunday was our last day and Ally and I decided we wanted to experience a Turkish Bath. Christina, who had been to Turkey before, recommended we go and told us what to expect. However, we had an entirely different experience then she did. We honestly had no idea what we had signed up for.
When we first get to the bath, they tell us to strip down in the little locker room they gave us and to put our towel on. They then led us through some baths to the sauna room, where mind you men were also in there steaming it up and washing up (although they did have their towels on as well) so Ally and I were super confused. They told us to lay down on this huge slab of marble that was really hot for 15 min, we had no idea if we were going to wash in that room as well with all the men so we were just really confused. From there, we went to a separate bathing room for women only and it’s just Ally and me in it. This Turkish woman comes in and takes her robe off to reveal she is only wearing a pair of small red underwear, which completely threw Ally and I big time. She went up to Ally and tries to get her to take her towel off (she didn’t speak much english) and Ally was taken by complete surprise and refused. So then I was like, I’ll do it. I asked…is it fine that i’m not wearing any underwear? (because Christina had told us that we would be given a pair of underpants to wear) and she was like yes…so there I go in my birthday suit with the middle-aged turkish woman and Ally. She had me lie down on my towel on the marble and proceeded to pour hot water over me, scrub my entire body to get rid of all dead skin, had me turn over to repeat the process on my front, then put all the soap suds on me and gave a very nice back massage, then washed my hair and rinsed me off for the last time before giving me a robe and going to wash Ally.
It was a very bizarre and perplexing situation that turned out to be really amazing. Ally and I have no realized that after the 16 hour bus ride and ending the trip naked together, we will forever be bound.
^Ally and I post Turkish Bath
We visited the Basilica Cistern and did some last minute shopping before rushing off to the airport.
^Medusa column in the cistern
^Getting fresh roasted corn from a street vendor as we shop
It was a mad dash through the airport but I was entirely happy because there was a Burger King in the airport and I was finally able to have a bean burger (which I had been craving for a few weeks). Our trip ended with an hour flight back to Athens and then another hour on the metro and we were back in our apartments.
^By this point, Ally wanted nothing to do with me
It was a weekend that I will never forget and one that I am so happy that I planned. I cannot wait to go back to Turkey and explore all the other cities and sites that I wasn’t able to this time around. Going to the school the next day proved to be a challenge. Now, I find myself two weeks later in hell week with 2 midterms, a project/oral for Greek, and a paper (I’m 3/4 of the way done) and then we have two weeks off! Next week, begins our travels through Delphi and Northern Greece with CYA and then I’m off to Spain and Portugal for spring break.
We have plans to go to Cape Sounion tomorrow and hopefully one or two islands this weekend, so I will be updating my blog with those adventures! Stay tuned.