Jun 30, 2015

Turkish Diaries: Part 2

To read Part 1, click here,

Along with a bunch of Malayalee job-aspirants, we boarded the flight bound for Istanbul via Doha. Qatar Airways, one of the few 5-star airlines in the world, has an impeccable airport at Doha. Our stopover, even though it ran to slightly a bit over 4 hours, was bearable, primarily due to the vast airport that had a gazillion things to do. We walked around, mentally taking note of the booze brands to buy on the return leg, checking out the throng of Chinese at the internet kiosks updating whatever god-forsaken social media they have, peeping in to bug the jeweler and check gold prices and eventually wound up near our terminal, with half an hour to kill.

Do you remember that Panchatantra story about a robot that is sent back in time to assassinate its maker so an AI network can win the war and ensure Judgment Day happens? I assume you don’t. We didn’t either. But we spoke about a lot of other meaningful topics such as the marriage woes of our friends, whether we had switched off the stove back home, a minor unnecessary flashback sequence involving our honeymoon trip, office gossip and relatives.

Oh, I think I had failed to mention this. Please find below a snapshot of our itinerary. No need to revert to us at the earliest. Thanks and regards.

As you can see from our thoroughly detailed itinerary, we had booked a flight to Selçuk on the very day we land. This is because, we wanted to travel to the Asian side of Turkey first, finish all the locations possible on that side, before we slide over to the more civilized, and more populated European side of the country; in other words, Istanbul. Now that we knew we were going to spend the majority of the vacation in the Asian side, we had to cherry pick places. There are three items on this list which you should tick off;
  • The Ephesus Ruins
  • Pammukkale
  • Hot air balloon at Cappadocia
TIP 1: Whatever the prices, whatever the amenities, whatever travel agency deals there are; stay in Selçuk. Other places nearby, namely İzmir and Kusadasi are good as well. But it would make sightseeing a lot easier, given that Ephesus is actually just a boulder’s throw, away.

We landed at İzmir airport and took the train to Selçuk. The station is very helpfully located directly opposite the airport, but the ticket attendant was very unhelpfully not versed in any language other than Turkish. Somehow, with the help of fellow colonial passengers who were equally lost with us, we found the right platform and bundled into the train.

The train rumbled away; meadows and olive trees greeting us in the fading sunlight. It was a pleasant evening we thought until I happened to glance at my watch and my mind jumped a few metres into the atmosphere and came to settle inside a plate of fresh curd rice. I remembered having corrected my watch at the airport and it was showing 7:30 PM while there was bright sunlight outside. It was like a Shakuntala Devi puzzle. It took us a few millennia to realize that the sun sets very late in this part of the world.

We promptly dozed off.

We awoke as the train chugged into one of the quaintest railway stations I have seen in my life. And right behind the station, loomed the famed Roman aqueducts replete with stork nests. By the time you could say ‘Kumabhishekam’ three times, I took out my DSLR and went off on a photo snapping spree, completely oblivious to the wife belting out choice words in Hindi.

I had forgotten the luggage.
TIP 2: Beware of stepping on cats. They are like red ants, OLA cabs and Thalappakatty biriyani outlets back home in India. They are everywhere.
After a few minutes, when we were out of camera angles and newer words respectively, we trudged around. I was a bit wary of passersby constantly asking us if we would like to eat and alluring it was. The smells that pervaded the place were delectable and the boulevards were so very inviting – tables and chairs everywhere, people consuming chunks of juicy meat, lazy cats dilly-dallying all over the place and a general sense of casualness that I had last seen in the power-point presentation that my subordinate had sent me to review, the day before.

With all thanks to Google’s offline map feature, we finally ended up near a castle/mosque-ish building, thoroughly lost and weary. Our limbs screamed for moov tubes. Throwing anxiety to the winds, we entered a small corner restaurant and out of sheer desperation asked him if he knew our hotel. He scratched his imaginary beard, smiled, just pointed and said, ‘Eet ees right there.’

And so it was.

Our hotel was more like a small cottage with a lovely garden, surrounded by rooms with windows skirted by curtains that were intricately embroidered. And that is where we encountered our first brush with Turkish hospitality. The hotelier chap was so filled with happiness at seeing us that we felt like we had returned from the US and our parents were meeting us at the airport with garlands and a trumpet band. He ushered us to a lovely room with beautiful wall-hangings and a well-stocked bathroom. (I am getting into the weird area usually occupied by MasterChef judges with their superlatives, but what the heck.)

We dumped our luggage, rested our feet a bit and then stepped out to converse with our host in broken English. His inability to speak English was evenly balanced by the effort he put into stressing each word slowly and steadily, almost like a tortoise. We decided to take a walk outside and stopped at the selfsame restaurant we had encountered, deciding to reward the Good Samaritan by having our first meal there. It was already close to 10 PM.
TIP 3: Gold gym members, kindly do not go to Turkey. As for the others, eat, eat, and eat everything you see. Taste everything you see. Tie up your habits, rituals and food-orientation into a small sock, attach a large brick and throw it into the Arabian Sea before you come. It is worth it.
It was fantastic.

To start with, the restaurateur was even more hospitable than the hotelier. He asked where we were from, how long we were staying, what places to visit, what to eat etc. Within half an hour pat, we had planned the next day completely. And then we tucked into the first of our several amazing meals in Turkey – Adana Kebab, an assorted meat platter that included Köfte, Şiş Kebap, İskender Kebab, a side of pilaf rice and a glass of cold Efes Pilsen beer.

It was a fitting end to a tiring day.

Little did we know, how exhausted we were going to get.

Picture courtesy: Wikipedia.org (forgot to take the camera and had to glamorize the post. Will be original, going forward.)

Jun 25, 2015

Turkish Diaries: Part 1

The cricket in the kitchen chirped away to a still screen of Gabriel Macht holding a file, frozen on the television. My wife looked at the watch and told me to book the cab.

It was time.

We had been planning to go on a trip to Turkey for eons. It took a wedding, a small session at a pub nearby and several jealousy-inducing pictures on facebook for us to finally take the plunge. This series of posts is our version of how we travelled as a couple to one of the most beautiful and endearing countries in the world. It is not an indicator of what you should be doing; there are better websites out there that are also better written somehow, although it is beyond me how it is so. One of those unexplained mysteries of the world.


The preparation for the trip was an arduous, 8 hours of intense planning and googling. As many people might mislead you, planning is the last thing you should be doing for a trip to Turkey. My philosophy is somewhat similar to what a valiant beast of the wilderness, say, a tiger, does after getting up one fine, Sunday morning – decide what to do for the day, on the go. Maybe chill out with the tigresses for some time, play with a few berries, hunt and devour a wild boar and maybe wind up at the nearest watering hole for a nightcap. To quote a famous ceiling fan manufacturer’s tagline – it has to be dynamic.

So, as the first step we booked the tickets. I have married into a family that has slight Marwadi traits of which I was completely unaware of; which worked largely in my favour as the trip progressed and I came to know a little bit more about my better half. Coming back to the better things in life, we waited and waited until the airlines figured that there was this Indian couple who wanted to make a cheap trip to Turkey and decided to lower it a teensy-weensy bit. We sprung, booked the tickets and ran around the room, crying inside at our forthcoming inevitable credit card statements and cheering outside at the onset of a long-due trip to a lovely country.

We had made a mistake.

In the heat of the moment, we had booked tickets for a mere 7 days. It was an error of enormous proportions, which we came to realize much, much later. Don’t run away thinking I will not talk about it. I will elaborate in due course in gory, painful detail that will make any KJo movie seem like an action flick.
TIP: Plan for more than 7 days to Turkey. Preferably 10 days, or 20 days or 42 days or even 365 days; but never 7 days. Or less than 7. Which might be... *goes to get a calculator*
Meanwhile, preparations started somewhat. We googled for some time and then lost interest. It was two months in advance and there was a truckload of time. Procrastination is beautiful.


Around a month before the trip, came the visa. I found out that I was eligible for an e-visa to Turkey, all thanks to the company I worked with. However, my wife was not. So we consulted leading experts in the market of obtaining visas and zeroed in on Thomas Cook. The second big mistake, but this we realized much earlier.
TIP: Do not go through travel agencies to get your visa unless you have a weird fetish for getting high blood pressure. Apply yourself – it is easier, cheaper and less of a hassle.
After several trips to their offices, with barely 3 weeks to fly, Thomas Cook wanted our marriage certificate for God-knows-gujarati-what-reason.  They have a fixed template like an Andhra meals menu for all Middle-Eastern countries; none of which made sense for Turkey. The lady there even went to the extent of lying about a delegation from India flying to Turkey exactly on the same dates we were going. We went solo and got the visa rather easily. We swore at the guy who recommended us the agency and proceeded to go home and have a cup of filter coffee to calm our frayed nerves.

So, everything was more or less set. More googling happened. The googling may or may not have included shopping for clothes; my wife is unable to determine the exact location or nature of this particular memory segment.


Yahoo! weather came to the rescue, as we began packing 10 hours before the flight. It was supposed to be partly rainy around the time we were going; so we flung in an umbrella and a plastic shower cap for good measure. Apart from that, we decided to travel light. Please do not attempt to crack a joke asking whether we packed in Philips or Godrej. That sort of wry humour will not be tolerated.
I have made a checklist here of the things we took,
  1. 2 knapsacks
  2. 2 smaller bags
  3. Clothes for 7 days (me)
  4. Clothes for 83 days (wife)
  5. 2 pairs of sandals (for both of us)
  6. 1 Burma Towel
  7. Phone charger
  8. 1 plastic shower cap
  9. Camera with 2 memory cards and 1 pendrive (very helpful)
  10. Selfie stick (which was on the list but we forgot to take)
  11. 1 umbrella
  12. 2 books
  13. 1 soap, 1 toothpaste, 2 toothbrushes and 10 shampoo sachets
  14. 1 bucket of enthusiasm
  15. 1 small dead cockroach
The phone rang.

The cab had arrived.

I turned off the television; Suits paused at some dramatic point of the episode. I checked my watch for horoscopic auspiciousness and then realized I had no idea what the kaalam was. It was 12:30 AM, if you really want to know. It did not matter.
TIP: Start the previous day itself if you are going to the Bangalore airport. I am not aware of any visa required for that, as of now. Even if it is, strict no-no to Thomas Cook.
We high-fived, blew a kiss to the cricket and stepped out. All that mattered was beginning.