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A European Sojourn


Turkey Trip 2004 (inc London, Greece, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Slovenia.)

My trip started with a long Air Transat flight to London. The food was terrible, you had to pay for soft drinks or juice and I was convinced the man next to me was going to die. His wife first noticed he was lapsing in and out of consciousness and so a flight attendant and then a doctor was called. After a lie down across a row of seats and with the help of an oxygen mask he recuperated. In true British spirit he apologized and said he did it because he felt the flight lacked drama.

London
London is a wonderful city. Full of life and more roads and lanes to explore than you could ever find time for. The new downtown toll access for cars has worked wonders for traffic and general ambience. Now all you really see are black London cabs and double decker buses.

I met up with my good friend (the greatestescapes.com webmaster) Jon Shutt and we were off.

Athens
Straight from airport to port. We caught a 16-hour ferry to Rhodes. The night';s sleep was punctuated with stops at Greek ports of call.

Rhodes
A wonderful UNESCO town. A walled city with a maze of streets. We lost our hotel for over an hour the one night we were there. The hotel proprietor insisted we go check out the nude beach so we could see the ";big balconies"; on the female tourists in town.

Marmaris
Our first Turkish town and a beautiful beach resort. Backpackers are referred to as turtles, because of our great big packs. In fact one fellow persistently stated all turtles must go immediately to the local hostel.

Bodrum
I wish all beach resorts were like this. A magical castle and walking street virtually on the water.

Selcuk - Ephesis
A wonderful Roman ruin overrun with package and cruise ship tourists. We accidentally walked out of bounds and were threatened briefly with arrest by a non-English speaker if we tried that again. We met a rather drunk local in the evening by the Byzantine Fortress. He offered to sell us Roman coins he had dug up. He also offered to break into a museum for us and show us around. We declined the offer. This was also our first and only encounter with greedy children. They tried to stick their hands in Jon';s pockets looking for change and when he attempted to leave pretended to be tripped to play the sympathy card. When ignored they stood up, grinned broadly, and tried other means to beg for money.

Pamukale
A travertine wonderland that looks remarkably like a ski hill at night. The tourists would lather themselves in Calcium deposits and shower under a hot waterfall. I stood under the waterfall in only my underwear. Apparently it is normal to wear your underwear in public. Nobody seemed to notice and a family with young kids even walked up to me and asked if I could take their photo. Above the amazing pools is a Roman ruin of Ephesus quality however you are allowed to wander everywhere.



Goreme
A ';Star Wars'; world of rock chimneys carved into homes. Absolutely amazing. They also have a few abandoned underground cities that can hold a few thousand people in time of need (up to 6 months). Armies would often march through on their way somewhere else, so hiding underground was the perfect defense against a much better equipped powerful army. The cities are complete with morgues and wells, but no toilets.

Instanbul
Very unlike the rest of Turkey. The Grand Bazaar is touristy and expensive. A handshake with anyone leads to an attempt to drag you into the store by your arm. Taxi drivers deliberate mislead you and no one is to be trusted. Signs in the hostel warn of friendly strangers drugging your drink with sleeping drugs in order to rob you.

Prices vary considerable so you better know what you are doing.

Hague Sofia (the mosque turned Museum) although described by Mark Twain as ";a big rusty barn"; it truly is amazing. The unfortunate interior scaffolding reaches 24-stories high and is still no where near the ceiling. The other mosques and the city itself is a wonderful sight. A must see for anyone but the gullible.

 

Unfortunately Jon had to head back to work and left me to continue on alone.

Highlights of Istanbul

Buying cheap underwear from the building manager at a local market. He managed a building but spent his days on a street corner selling underwear.

The sock vender who, after a furious bargaining volley with me, decided that he should pick up his whole table of socks and walk briskly down the street to another spot as we attempted to pay him.

The dark narrow shopping corridor lined with life like mannequins. Shop owners would come out of their doors and stand quietly next to the mannequins only to move as you approached. Very unnerving.

Ramadan with its nightly feasts and singing children. Ramadan, of course means the Muslims cannot drink, smoke, or eat during daylight hours. In the day men whose lives consisted of smoking and drinking tea looked lost standing or sitting on corners like pouting children who had there fun stolen. At twilight every restaurant seat would be full. Tables were piled high with mouthwatering food. Finding cheap local food became impossible during the day. I managed to find a chicken kebap which had a raw piece of skin in the middle that sprouted tiny hairs. I think it may have been cat. I have been unable to look at a doner kebap since.

Beware of carpet salesman. They drag you in. Treat you like a king. Bring you tea and then do the carpet guilt trip on you.

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Sofia, Bulgaria

A boring city with a wonderful name. Didn';t even spend the night.

Sarajevo, Bosnia
Wow. I expected nothing and was given the world. Wonderful food. Better Turkish delight and kebabs then Turkey. Friendliest people on the trip. Beautiful scenery. Amazing history. The buildings and houses have so many holes in them they looked like Swiss cheese. Every building no matter how small has a peppering of bullet holes and the less fortunate have big mortar holes in the side. The higher buildings still stand as they did in the war.

One out of three died in Sarajevo during the five year siege. While I was graduating high school they were dodging snipers and almost starving. Bosnia is a must see just don';t step off the pavement (severe landmine problem). Souvenirs consist of spent mortar shells hand pummelled into delightful patterns. I';m still kicking myself for not buying any.

Mostar
Another shocker. The buildings look even more war-torn. But incredibly beautiful, especially the Stari Most. For $20 I had a two-bedroom apartment to myself for the night.

Dubrovnik
A fantasyland of winding streets, beautiful bays, and a walled city that will knock your socks off. The entire wall top is walkable and beyond description. Unfortunately, the tourists have found the white marble streets of Dubrovnick and it is overrun. Expect to share the town with at least one and up to four cruise ships a day.

Kotor
Three Aussies, another Canadian and I rented a car to get to Montenegro. Two of the Aussies were from outback West Australia and you could tell. One was beyond a stereotype. The ";F"; word was used as a verb, noun, adverb, pronoun, and period. Pepper that with colourful Australian slang and you will be close to what this guy sounded like. Kotor is a small walled city with a wall extending 1000-ft up a hill to a fortress. Unbelievable views and fortifications. An undiscovered gem. That night we almost drove to Albania. Cooler Canadian heads prevailed and as the sun dropped beneath the sea we decided it was not worth crossing the border with two drunk Aussies.

Split
A very funky city built out of the remains of a palace. Beware the little old ladies at the bus stop. They compete to have you stay at their house overnight. You choose one that reminds you of your grandmother and off she hobbles back to her place to show you your room.

Zadar
I was the only one in the hostel (200 beds). Ended up talking to the locals in what ended up being an enjoyable evening. They are paid a pittance a month despite the rapidly increasing cost of food.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

A fantasy land of Karst waterfalls and green/blue water. One of these most organized and spectacular national parks I have ever visited.

Lublijana
The hostel is full. It is midnight. Luckily a kind local found me and invited me home to her lovely apartment. (Her apartment was built for the senior members of the old communist government). She is 30-years old and her fiancé had left her in March. She is a published writer and cancer specialist. I gladly accepted and had two days of local company and great food.

The last two nights I moved into the Celica hostel, a local prison turned into a hopping hostel of great taste (not the let';s get drunk frat party type). A live band played every night. Lublijana is a beautiful capital of two hundred and fifty thousand with a big city feel and small city heart.

 

Skocjan Caves
A mediocre cave with a jaw-dropping underground gorge. We are talking a stunning underground river and waterfall that would have wowed even if it wasn';t in a cave. The other tourists did the ";thou shall not pass"; line from ";Lord of the Rings"; on the bridge crossing the underground gorge. It certainly did feel like we were in the underground scene from ";Lord of the Rings";.

 

Postojna Caves
The Disneyland of caves. The two p.m. tour must have had 400 participants. We all boarded a miniature train for a 5km ride past amazing formations. Followed by a 1 km hike amongst the stalactites and stalagmites. The tour ended in an underground concert hall capable of holding 1000';s. The train took us back to the surface via a rushing underground river.

 

Homeward Bound
The flight from Lublijana to London cost me less then my ticket from Stansted to Gatwick airport. A night wandering London and a brief sleep in the Gatwick airport and I was on a very delayed flight home to Vancouver. We weren';t even late arriving thanks to the decision to bypass Calgary, much to the horror of all the Calgarians.