Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Public Transit

Istanbul's public transit includes busses, a metro, a trolley, ferries, and a funicular. All transit services can be paid for with an Akbil (akıllı means intelligent, and bilet means ticket), which looks like a hearing aid battery mounted on a piece of plastic the size of a key. You can pay for a number of units on the Akbil, then use these units as you travel. It is very satisfying to place the Akbil on the little Akbil socket, and it makes a fun noise as it takes your money.

In some places, the metro runs over regular roads, so traffic gets backed up at metro stops. Funiculars are half subway, half metro. Funiclars use counterweights to pull train cars up and down steep slopes. They only have two stops, one at the bottom of a hill, and the other at the top. One of the funiculars was formerly powered by horses; this funicular runs from a metro stop to the start of the trolley line. The trolley runs on Istikal Caddesi. I took the trolley once. It doesn't save a lot of time, because Istikal is a busy pedestrian street with a lot of neat shops and stands, so people are always in the way of the trolley. Istikal Caddesi ends at Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul, where Paul and I went to ring in the New Year. Matthew and I saw a demonstration at Taksim when we got to Istanbul; demonstrations in Taksim are illegal.

Ferries connect the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. For 50 kuruş (about 30 cents) you can get a cup of tea in a real glass on a real saucer. The ride is about 20 minutes, which is just long enough to have a cup of tea. I think that if I were to live in a city with a ferry, and I wanted to write a book, I would sit on a ferry and drink tea all day as I write.

There are also ferries in Izmir, but they are smaller. Drinks and snacks are also served on them. For me, riding ferries was a big adventure; it was very relaxing to be able to look at the city at night from the water while drinking sahlep. I think it would be interesting to live in Izmir or Istanbul and commute by ferry every day.

Sahlep is a warm beverage, sort of like egg nog, but flavored with wild orchid. It is illegal to export authentic sahlep from Turkey, for fear of destroying the wild orchid population. It has a great flavor, but it's so sweet my teeth hurt.

In Izmir, public transit can be paid for with cash or with cards with RFID chips in them. The cool Izmiri don't even take the cards out of their wallets, they just bang their wallets on the receiver. (I learned to do this very quickly so that I would appear to be a native.) The cards are disposable, and you can buy cards holding either three or five units. This doesn't make sense to me because I normally use public transit to make round trips, so the cards should come with an even number of units.

On Ankara's public transit system, you can buy cards with a certain number of units on them; I seem to recall that they came with six or ten units. If you want to pay for several people traveling with one ticket, you punch the card into the card swipe machine, then press a button corresponding to the number of people traveling with you. The buttons are arranged vertically, and each button is on a colored stripe; I think this is so that a bus driver only needs to use his peripheral vision to see which color's button you pushed, to know how many travelers you've payed for.

The most terrifying things in Turkey are Dolmuşes, which are like minibusses; the evil turquoise thing in the picture is a Dolmuş. As I understand it, Dolmuşes are run by private companies, but their prices are set by the city government. They run set routes, often going to places that busses don't go, or on more direct routes. Dolmuş is Turkish for full; Dolmuşes are so called because they have seats for ten riders, but about twenty might crammed into one. However scary it is to cross the street in Turkey, it is more harrowing if you see a Dolmuş coming. Dolmuş rides have to be paid for in cash. Passengers enter Dolmuşes through the side, so each Dolmuş ride starts with half a dozen riders, at least, holding out handfuls of coins to the driver and telling him how many people they're paying for. The driver takes the money and makes change, while driving.

I think that Dolmuş drivers are supposed to have a helper who takes the money, instead, but what I've always seen is that the helper is buddies with the driver, and they talk together the whole time, and the driver winds up driving and taking the money. This doesn't make much of a difference, safety-wise, because even when not taking money, Dolmuş drivers do not obey any traffic laws.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

If you listen, you get it

[The following is lightly edited from a journal entry I wrote on the evening of December 19, 2004.]

I went Christmas caroling with Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church tonight. We knocked on a lot of doors, but only a few people listened to us. When we got back to church to warm up, Phil and I coached Wendy and Mike in a game of chess. Whenever one of them called "check," Phil and I hockey checked. And yelled. I got laryngitis.

On my way out, I said "Hi" to Bob. Bob is great--he's got white hair, a long, white beard, and enough weight. Bob is often mistaken for Santa Claus.

There's a janitor at work, Mark, who always greets me and asks me how I'm doing as if he actually wants an account of how I'm doing. Mark takes out the trash and mops. One time, I was talking with Mark, and he said, "I'm just trying to keep everybody's spirits up." That confused me at first. Mark is a janitor. Morale isn't part of his job description.

One time, I was talking with Derek, another janitor at the lab. He asked me what I want to do with my life. I told him that I want to get a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. I then explained, quite patiently, that Ph.D.'s in mechanical engineering are called "doctor" but do not treat ailments. I mentioned I may want to live in Australia. Derek said, "Watch out for crocodiles!" in all seriousness. Derek was genuinely concerned for me, that I would not be mauled by a large reptile.

One time in Philadelphia, as my friends and I were coming off the subway and walking up to street level, we met a man named Seth. He was dirty, had misplaced his leg, outright lost his teeth, and couldn't see or speak clearly. He grabbed my hand when I got near him, and he grabbed Jen's hand, too. All I could think about was finding the nearest sink after I got through this interaction. Seth tried to tell me and my friends his story, but all I could make sense of from his mumbling was something about the Poconos. I'm glad Seth started talking before I could say something stupid.

When Bob talks, his tongue often goes all the way to the roof of his mouth. He's kind of hard to follow. Bob is a Santa--he has three gigs to go to tomorrow. Sometimes, Bob's sentences don't go anywhere. "I'm Santa for all kinds of kids--white, colored, Spanish..." and then it trails off. What's the point, Bob?

Bob can talk like Donald Duck. It's quite amazing. Bob says it's a gift from God. People have trouble understanding Bob when he talks like Donald Duck. Bob says "If you listen, you get it."

After talking with Bob, I walked toward the door. Bob told me to look out, but I wasn't listening; I almost bumped into Clyde.

Phil and I yelled. I got laryngitis.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pseudo-historical Fiction

I think that I would like myself if I was a noted fiction author. The fame isn't very important to me. I just think that if I could write good fiction, that would show me that I understand what it is to be human in a deep way. I don't think I have this understanding.

I think a shortcut to raw fame in writing fiction is writing a mediocre contemporary story, and putting it in a time capsule, with instructions that the piece be published in 500 years under a psuedonym as historical fiction. Of course, if I were to use my real name, people would know that the book is average fiction, rather than insightful historical fiction; I couldn't make my name known this way, but a lot of people would know the work, so that should count for something.

If I were famous, I could launch a jewelry line called, "Silverwear" where you could hang forks from your ears.

Sometimes I come up with ideas for things that I think would be interesting stories. A man is backing up in a parking lot and accidentally hits a child and kills him; the man freaks out and goes on the lam, making it harder to make things right. Maybe he kills the witnesses, but there are witnesses to those killings. Maybe he evades arrest, so the charges against him increase. I'd like to read a story like that, but I don't know how I'd go about writing it. I'm afraid it would seem contrived.

I wish I had synesthesia.

Actually, I think all of my story ideas have something to do with death. I'd like to write a political thriller in which an unpopular president pays someone to fake an assassination attempt on him, to garner sympathy. I think that disrespecting the wishes of the dead is an underused plot device.

One time, I was in a Panera, and there were two people there talking in sign language. I thought this was interesting, because I normally talk between bites of food, but if I were to use sign language, I could talk while chewing, I'd just need to put my sandwich down. If I could communicate both by talking and signing, maybe I could eat and talk without pauses. In my pseudo-historical fiction story, there would be deaf people having a conversation, but probably not at Panera; I think they would be at a smokey diner.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Back home again

I'm back from Turkey; I'm home again in Baltimore. I dare you to guess how the left side of my left leg, at the top of the calf wound up bald. More Turkey posts will follow as I go through my notes.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In Izmir

I'm in Izmir and got here in good order, except when there was confusion as to what time the bus would leave the rest stop, but Paul kept them from abandoning me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


On the way to Istanbul, Matthew and I had a seven-hour layover in London, so we left the airport and took the tube to Westminster. The train robot said at each stop, "mind the gap," this phrase is, evidently, a cultural icon in London. English humor is such that I don't know if we're so frequently told to "mind the gap" ironically or seriously.
Also, I don't know why there is a gap--the floors of the train cars are often half a foot above the platform.

So, we got off the Tube at Westminster. There were security cameras everywhere. As we walked out of the station, I asked Matthew, "Where's Westminster Abbey?" "You're looking at it," said Matthew of the old building right in front of us. I felt a little silly, until we rounded the corner to enter, only to discover that the building is actually the Parliament building--the Abbey was next door. We went to enter it, but it's £9 to get in for students, and I didn't feel like paying that much to see a church, even such an important one.
Driving to church on Christmas Eve, I mentioned to my family the forthcoming long London layover. Eddie asked me if I could get something for him while I'm there. What? A necklace. The entire family laughed at him, poor chap. Secilee asked for a picture of Big Ben.

I saw a clock tower, but it was pretty small. I said, "Let me take a picture of this; I'll tell Secilee it's Big Ben." Matthew said, "Um, yeah, that is Big Ben."
(Later, on the phone, Secilee told me that she thought Big Ben was a double-decker bus.)

We went to the British museum, but it was closed. Instead, we got pasties and postcards, then popped in at the Museum Tavern, which is a couple of hundred years old. We each had a pint of Old Peculiar, which I would recommend.

After landing in Istanbul, late that night, we tried to find a pay phone in the airport. Everyone here is very friendly--one person told us to look outside. After going outside, and seeing no pay phone, we tried to get back in, but a police officer blew his whistle at us. We crossed the street to the parking garage and back again. We asked for directions from another police officer, and he told us to enter the airport through another door. We did, but we would have had to have our luggage x-rayed to proceed. We tried to go back, but the door was one-way. We slipped around the next slew of people entering and we escaped. We found the stairs leading down to the metro station; we figured a pay phone might be there.

We did, indeed, find a pay phone, but it only took credit cards or calling cards. I picked up the phone, Matthew handed me his card, and I slid it into the slot, and dialed our host, Elizabeth. I could only type two digits before the machine reset. I tried again.
The payphone didn't look like the payphones in the US. Those, you just drop coins through a slot and dial the number. The phones here in Turkey have a little LCD screen with two buttons on either side of it. We tried pushing buttons that we recognized, or, rather, avoided buttons that we knew wouldn't be helpful, like the one of the police or the one for pre-paid phonecards. Matthew suggested that we ask for help, but I told him that we'd probably have an easier time getting the machine to work than we would finding someone who spoke enough English well enough to help us. Repeatedly, I would push a different button, slide the card, and start dialing. Each time, I could only type two digits before the phone reset. There were other buttons, off to the left, one that I didn't recognize, one with a picture of a telephone, one with the letter L and one with the letter R. I tried those, too.

A half an hour later, I tapped the L button, but this time, the text on the screen turned to English. I swiped the card. The screen said that the card should be swiped with the magnetic stripe up.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tap water in Turkey

The tap water in Turkey is not potable.

I was worried when I read this in my travel guide, and went out immediately to Dick's and bought iodine tablets. Matthew did not, claiming that he has an unusually effective digestive tract. Seeing how many Aldi pizzas he can eat right before bed, I'm inclined to agree. I figured I would play it safe, though.

So far, I've only used one tablet.

Turks don't drink or cook with Turkish tap water; it's fine for showering, or washing clothes, vegetables and hands, it's just not drinkable. There are a couple of elements of culture here that respond to this problem.

In restaurants, bottled spring water is served. In the cafe Paul and I had lunch at today, bottles of water were be sitting on the table next to the salt and pepper shakers and napkin dispensers; this isn't normal, you normally have to order water. Some restaurants charge for water (normally 50 kuruş or 1 lira, about 33-66 cents), but nicer ones provide it for free. They always make a point of bringing the water bottle to your table sealed, so you know that it's real spring water.

In homes, people get their water by the jug, like the big Deer Park jugs in water coolers in America. In America, the jug normally sits on a water cooler, nozzle-side down, but, here, the jug sits on the floor, and a special pump is used to dispense water. Pumps are for sale at many stores, and are inexpensive, I saw one today for 6.50 lira. Jugs of water are delivered to one's doorstep for about 2-3 lira.

The tap water in Turkey is not potable, but it's really no inconvenience at all.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Buying things in units

In America, we're used to paying for utilities monthly in a bill. Here in Turkey, cell phone time is purchased in köntör (units), but, as near as I can tell, no one is quite sure how long you can talk per köntör, or how man text messages are in a köntör. People text here a lot because it's actually much cheaper than talking. This is sensible; text messages back home cost me 20 cents a piece, so don't text me, please. This is funny, because, byte for byte, data sent by text message is more expensive by a large factor than sending data to the space shuttle and back again. Natural gas is also purchased in units, rather than paid-for at the end of the month. Today, in the metro station at Kızılay, we saw many people standing in a long queue to pay for gas, which seems inefficient. I'm told that this is because many people only have enough money to pay for three or four days' worth of gas at a time.

Streets in Turkey

So far, in Turkey, I have only really spent time in down-town parts of cities. They feel like Half Life 2 or The Bourne Identity, very gray and with tiny streets and tiny cars. Signs are everywhere in Latin script but written in words I don't generally recognize. The idea of "zoning" seems to be a loose concept here, so a bar might be on the third floor of an apartment building--friends who have lived here a while say to look up when wandering, because you never know what you'll find. In Kızılay, the Ankara city center, there is a coffee shop that you need to enter by going through a book store; this is perhaps the best sort of problem to have.

The sidewalks are brick or cobblestone; some of the streets in Istanbul were cobblestone, also, but I haven't seen many like that here in Ankara. The curbs here are very high; sometimes as much as a foot tall. Sometimes the sidewalk is at the same level as the curb, like I'm used to, but sometimes the sidewalk is at the level of the street, so you'll often see two people walking side-by-side, with one using the curb as a balance beam. Istanbul is an old city, so it's not very well-organized for driving--the roads twist and turn at odd angles. Ankara's roads seem to be more organized, because Ankara grew up more recently.

Simits are readily available; simitçi (çi means vendor--what an efficient language!) sell simits from cute uniform red carts that have umbrellas when the weather is bad. The simits are kept in glass compartments. Simits are halfway between bagels and pretzels, and are covered entirely with sesame seeds. They're a great snack, and cheap, too--1 lira. We're pretty sure the simitçi are under the rule of a simit cartel. They leave their carts overnight, and don't seem to be afraid that they'll be stolen.

Freshly roasted chestnuts are sold the same way, except they're sold by the gram. The vendor uses an old-timey balance to show you that he's giving you the amount you ask for. The vendors use tongs to put the chestnuts in a paper sack one at a time. It's worth getting 100 grams of chestnuts for the experience of it, but they're very expensive, 3 lira. They are delicious, though.

Taxis are all over the place; there are probably twice as many taxis as regular cars. Empty taxis driving past honk at pedestrians, which is convenient, so you know that you can get a ride. Taxis in America are so expensive that I've only ridden in them twice, to and from the San Antonio airport. Taxis here, though, are very cheap. Matthew and I paid 50 lira for the ride from the airport all the way across Istanbul, just about, after midnight, while giving the cab driver terrible directions (he rolled down his window and asked other cab drivers where Kemankeş is, several times, when stopped at red lights); this is about 33 dollars. That was the most we had ever had to pay. A 15 minute ride typically costs less than 10 lira, so it's actually very affordable for tourists to use taxis to get around; taxis are generally too expensive for the people who live here, though, because salaries are very low, 300-900 lira a month.

In Baltimore, pedestrians will cross a street, walking in front of oncoming cars. We don't even have to look both ways, we know that the car's going to slow down. Really mean pedestrians make eye contact with the driver of an oncoming vehicle, daring him to hit them.

Crossing the street here is terrifying. Traffic lights aren't always obeyed, and even when they are, drivers will expect you to run out of the way if you're not quick enough in crossing. Many of the roads, especially in Istanbul, are very narrow, and so one car will have to pull off onto a sidewalk to let the other car pass; this will happen even if pedestrians are already on the sidewalk.

Pointing and Smiling

I'm surprised at how quickly I'm picking up on Turkish, but more surprised at how much milage I can get out of only a few words.

Today, Paul and I tried to take the bus from the Middle Eastern Technical University to Kızılay, the city center, but missed the stop entirely. The bus dumped us on the north-west edge of town.

I'm realizing that gesturing and using very few works effectively, right now, is a more important skill than learning proper Turkish. I hear that Turks are more likely to help confused foreigners than other Turks, so looking disoriented is a survival skill here. When we got on the bus this time to go to Kızılay, I asked the driver, "Kızılay?" to make sure we were going the right way, and he nodded. If I'd tried to phrasebook it and use something resembling proper grammer, or even if I'd tried to say, "Otobüs Kızılay'a gitir?" (The bus goes to Kizilay?) that probably would have been less effective. I don't know what I would have done if I had used a fancy phrase and he responded saying something I wouldn't understand.

When we got to Kızılay, we weren't sure we were there. (It turned out that we were a few blocks from the bus stop we'd used this morning.) I asked someone "Do you speak English?" instead of "Ingilizce konuşuyor musunuz?" and he shook his head.

(One time, I asked a waiter, in Turkish, if he spoke English, and he looked at me like he was very confused. I don't know if that's because my pronunciation was bad, or because it doesn't make much sense to ask someone if they speak English in Turkish; either I ought to know enough Turkish to order in Turkish, or too little Turkish to ask whether the waiter knows English. I've not used the phrase since. On the other hand, it seems polite to me, though, to try one's best as the language of the person one is speaking to, and not simply assume that they'll know one's language.)

So, I asked the stranger, "Kızılay?" and pointed down, and he nodded. We went back and forth on this until I was sure we were, in fact, in Kızılay. He and his girlfriend argued about which way was right or left; they knew these words in English.

Well, they knew right and left, but got them backwards, so I had to ask, "Metro nerede?" of some other strangers.

Our first day in Istanbul, I noticed that Matthew did a better job of ordering food than I did, because he is used to being in situations where he doesn't know the language. It's very awkward, and I feel rude, but Turks are generally accommodating when I point at things and use English words they might not understand. I don't think there's much proper etiquette for when two people don't know a common language. Smiling helps patch things up, though.


Today, we went to a coffee shop called Kocatepe. I was able to order "Türk kahvesi, sütlu, şekurli" (Turkish coffee with milk and sugar) and only flubbed a couple of the vowels. I'm not sure my grammar there was at all correct, and I had to consult the phrasebook right before ordering for "şekurli," but I'm so excited about being able to use another language for practical things. I think that all that I've used my Spanish for is telling jokes to a Chilean and his family and getting a map in San Antonio. This trip makes me want to visit some Latin American country, just so I can use a language that I've worked hard at learning; I've barely put in any time learning Turkish.

Snow on Bolu Mountain

Starting, I suppose, about 50 km east of Istanbul, I saw patches of snow on the ground. As we traveled east, up the mountains, the snow got thicker, until I saw about eight inches of snow on Bolu Mountain. This is where our bus stopped for lunch. The view was breathtaking. In Ankara, it's snowed all day today--Mike says it's snowed here six out of the past seven Christmases. The snow's not as thick here, maybe four inches. I should have packed my sled.

Shoes, Toilet, Shower

In Turkey, one is expected to take off one's shoes when entering a house, because shoes are unclean. I hate shoes, so I love this practice, and plan to impose it on my guests when I return home.

At the apartment Paul and I are staying at now, there are two bathrooms. Rather, there is one room for the toilet, and another for the shower. I understand this is a rather common arrangement, or was, back when squat toilets were more common. The shower and the toilet are at opposite ends of the apartment; I'm not sure how common this is, but because toilets are dirty and showers are where one gets clean, I'm glad that there's space put between them. The only problem is that I always, ahem, excrete before showering, so the process is a little longer.

The toilet here is a squat toilet. I'd never used a squat toilet before, and had heard horror stories about clueless Westerners pooping on Chinese trains, where the toilet is just a hole in the floor.

Upon using the toilet myself, though, I must say: sit-down toilets are, perhaps, the worst aspect of Western cultural imperialism.

I do not think that I have ever had such refreshing and thorough experiences defecating as the three times that I have used squat toilets. The intestines are aligned properly, and so there is minimal effort required.

The first time that I used the squat toilet, I stood to urinate, then dropped my trousers to my ankles to defecate. The geometry did not work such that I could then urinate a few more drops without hitting my pants, so I had to be careful. I am not sure if this is an issue for women who wear trousers, because I'm entirely unfamiliar with their plumbing and the angle of urine emanation.

For men, certainly, I recommend keeping the pants at knee level (this is probably best for women, as well). Trust the geometry! It works! Simply by putting my feet on the footpads and squatting as low as I can go, I have bombed direct hits each time, right from the start. It's tough to aim the urine stream, but, I think, with practice, this will not be too tricky.

To flush, I filled a pitcher with water and dumped it on my droppings. The pitcher was quite small, maybe half a gallon. These toilets use far less water than sit-down toilets, conferring major environmental benefits.

The tragedy is that squat toilets are disappearing all over Turkey, and probably elsewhere as well. Sit-down toilets are seen as more modern (flush toilets were invented in 1596).

All of the toilets that I have seen here provide toilet paper. This is probably not the norm for squat toilets, but I do not mind that the authenticity of my experience is undermined. I hear that a more thorough wipe is obtained using the hand, which is then washed thoroughly.

All I have to say about the shower is that we have the showerhead mounted on a hose rather than fixed to the wall, so I have to coordinate the soap and the showerhead, but this is not very tricky.

A brief, throat-clearing note on Turkey blogging editorial practice

For all posts written outside of my regular schedule of 1 AM each Tuesday, expect no proofreading, links, or pictures until I return. After I return, I'll make these pretty and re-post them. So, if you want to go ahead and read them now, that's fine, just come back in two weeks for pictures and lucidity. Otherwise, as Tim Milligan, "If you're a person who likes surprises, don't look!"

Excerpts from email to Cammy

The following are edited excerpts from email I've sent to Cammy; I've been emailing her more than blogging, but I think some of the stories I've told her are fit to print. [Note to Cammy: you don't need to read this post, but I've added some things.]

To get to Turkey, Matthew and I flew British Air. I was very impressed, but Matthew says that British Air is the European carrier that he's flown that he likes the least. He also says that in first class on Emirates, there's a menu of massages you can order from the flight attendants. I do not believe him on either count.

I had requested vegan meals, they were so-so as far as food is concerned (like, a couple of my noodles were crunchy when they should not have been at all), but
seemed to be about as good as the other food. Matthew says that his food stacked up well with other airplane food.

On our layover in London on December 26, Matthew and I had a pint each of Old Peculiar at the Museum Tavern; I highly recommend it. While we were there, a Scotsman walked in, and complained about how his hosts for Christmas only drank wine--he's not had beer since Christmas Eve! (He made it sound like forever.) He tried ordering a Pride of London, but they were out, so he settled on a winter ale. (I'd tasted it, and found it too bitter.)

At any rate, Pride of London has the approval of a Scotsman.

That night, we arrived in Istanbul. I will talk about the layover and the trip from the airport to our host in more detail on my regular-quality post on Tuesday.

December 27, we pretty much just sat around, recovering, until late in the afternoon, when Matthew and I went to Taksim Square, where we saw a rally and bought food. [Cammy tells me that, according to Wikipedia, rallies are illegal in Taksim.] I'm surprised at how useful my meager Turkish is. Most of the people selling food or working in shops know enough English, though, for us to get by. We just got back from Kahve Altı, which means Coffee 6; it's a hip bar where music was being played and we drank Efes Pilsen, which is the most popular beer of Turkey. [The joke I didn't get at the time is that kahvaltı means breakfast; kahve is coffee, and altı is six. I think that's the first Turkish pun I got, but I didn't get it until I saw a lot of breakfast places on Bolu mountain and looked it up.]

I liked it. There was music in the front; we sat in the back room, which had a tree growing out of the ceiling, heat lamps, plants, and the floor was a bed of pebbles. I should have asked if I could take my shoes off.

Matthew also got some rakı, which is Turkey's biggest liquor. Cammy says, "Rakı sounds like magic," and she is right. It is clear, but when you add water (a customary way to drink it) the water goes cloudy. Matthew is trying to figure out why it does that. It is like a whiskey, but made with grapes, and has a licorice flavor (it's flavored with anise). When I get back home, I'll try to find some.

Onur, one of our hosts, tells us that AROG is in theaters. I've seen GORA with Evan; AROG is its sequal. GORA is a Turkish-language sci-fi parody movie. Evan loved it. Paul and I will try to see AROG while we're here.

On January 2, Paul and I traveled from Istanbul to Ankara by bus. Onur told us that Varan was the best choice for inter-city travel, because they alternate drivers every three hours--this makes them the safest bus company. We recommend Varan for its excellent service and the picturesque stop for lunch on Bolu mountain. It is evidently much more expensive than other bus lines, so we'll try a cheaper one as we travel to Izmir, and will report on the difference. All of the busses are supposed to have great service; they serve beverages and snacks, and the attendants are very polite. Ours wore a vest and bow-tie.

There are two feniculars in Istanbul. Look it up on Wikipedia, for realsies.

Props so far:
Elizabeth and Onur for giving us places to sleep in Istanbul
Martha and Sarah for also helping us find our way around and giving us tea and mousse
Max, for tips on vegetarianism in Turkey
Tahiry for showing us around ITU and telling me how awesome Boğaziçi is
Cindy, for introducing us to the largest continent in the world and giving perspective on getting transplanted to Turkey, and not minding nargile smoke too much
Mike for showing us around Bilkent
Deniz for hosting us in Ankara
Matthew and Paul for being excellent low-key travel buddies

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ankara, day 1

Today, Paul and I rode the bus to Ankara, the capital of Turkey. It wasn't very expensive, and the service was better than on Southwest Airlines. We ate lunch on Balu Mountain, with an amazing view but for the pine trees in the way of the window. They gave us a lot of tea and coffee and pretzels and cake. The bus was mostly empty, so we could spread out.

We're staying with Deniz, another couch surfing friend. He's very friendly and helpful; he cooked us supper and we looked at pictures from his trips to Italy and Greece. Deniz has a cat, Minnoş, who is, evidently, a couchsurfing cat. Bedtime now, more later.