The bad luck Turkey trip

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FAIRY CHIMNEY PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY (AND YES, WE’RE AWARE THEY LOOK LIKE PENISES. A LOT.)

It would be impossible to recount two and a half weeks of adventuring in a foreign country in a single blog post. That is, a reasonable person who didn’t take an entire pad of notes could probably condense a two and a half week trip into a single blog post.

But I’m the type of writer who requires a page to convey a simple salutation like “good morning.” Plus, I think the impact of some of the better stories is lost if they’re buried and competing with one another for attention.

So I’ll be dividing up the trip into four or five parts, and giving each phase of the trip it’s due (with lots of photos and video from Colin of course, since all text and no imagery makes Jane Eyre Likes Cupcakes a dull blog).

Colin likes to say that it’s a damned shame that our first impressions of countries are actually of airports, because no one likes an airport—at least not by the time you’ve arrived at your destination. And it’s true. I arrived in Istanbul, after three flights, one delay, and one near-delay, carrying a bag of my own vomit. And I ultimately liked the city very much, and was incredibly impressed by how rich it is in culture and history, how hip and alive it feels. But it took some time to get beyond the vomit bag.

I’ve always wondered whether anyone actually uses those vomit bags they provide in the seat ahead of you. Why don’t these people just throw up in the toilet rather than subject the other passengers to their vomit? And, really, what type of person throws up on a plane?

People with stomach conditions, it turns out. I am the sort of terribly intense A-type personality control freak who throws up when I get overly stressed. I’m finally working with a doctor on coming up with an official diagnosis and solution to this problem, but suffice it to say, it’s not the sort of condition that makes for pleasant travels.

Because airports stress me out. Big time. We’d spent a couple of days before the trip to Turkey visiting a friend in Indiana, so we had three flights from Indianapolis to Istanbul. And I started vomiting the night before the first flight while we were in the hotel in Indianapolis.

We made it from Indianapolis to New York only to discover that our flight to Rome was delayed an hour and it would be impossible for us to catch our final flight from Rome to Istanbul. The airline attendant reasoned that we could simply endure an 11-hour layover in Rome before flying to Istanbul. Besides the fact that we were hoping to take an overnight bus within hours of arriving in Istanbul, I didn’t feel as though I could physically endure an additional 11 hours sitting in an airport.

We begged and managed to catch an earlier flight out of New York, which involved a Home Alone-like dash through the airport in New York in order to catch the earlier flight. I really hate that you can book your flights month in advance, arrive at the airport on time, and essentially do everything exactly the way you’re supposed to and the odds are you’ll still find yourself running through an airport in a panic at some point. It’s just expected. If you pay for a flight that leaves and arrives on time—without losing your luggage—you feel like you won the jackpot. Which is crazy. Because it’s really just getting what you paid for.

Anyway, the vomiting escalated in earnest on the second flight, during which I learned that there’s nothing quite like the expression of pity and disgust on a flight attendant’s face when she tries to offer you a meal and realizes you’re dry heaving into a vomit bag.

By the time we arrived in Rome, I was a complete mess and despite the fact that I hadn’t had anything in my system for quite some time, I couldn’t seem to stop throwing up. Colin was on edge—which was a pretty reasonable reaction considering the fact that we were both terrified that I was going to die on an airplane. Not to mention the humiliation of watching your girlfriend throw up in front of hundreds of strangers of all nationalities. We couldn’t have even explained what was wrong if we’d wanted to.

The flight from Rome to Istanbul was delayed two hours, so we spent some time cooling our heals in the terminal sectioned off for international flights to the Middle East. I think the low point was when the flight finally started boarding and I was standing in line to get on the plane and I couldn’t stop dry heaving into the vomit bag. I was worried this would raise questions and concerns from the flight crew or fellow passengers but no one batted an eye at the American girl who couldn’t stop dry heaving long enough to board the plane.

The third flight progressed much the same as the second expect that the flight attendants’ expressions were slightly more sympathetic.

We landed in Istanbul and followed the herd through customs where a woman screamed at a young man for cutting ahead of the line and I noticed that the bottom of the vomit bag I was carrying was starting to sag. At the baggage claim we waited the requisite 15 minutes after the last of the luggage appeared before acknowledging the ugliest of traveling truths: Our baggage was lost.

I’m lucky because I’ve only had my luggage lost once and that was on a return flight when it didn’t really matter. By the time I got home, a driver from San Francisco had delivered my luggage and the entire ordeal was only minimally stressful. But that was in a country where I spoke the language, when I was already on my way home were I had clean clothes waiting for me.

The Alitalia agents had a long, angry line of people whose luggage they had lost. Fortunately, they spoke enough English that we were able to fill out a lost luggage form and they seemed to indicate that someone from the airline would deliver our luggage to our hostel some time the next day. (We hadn’t planned on spending the night in Istanbul but given how sick I had been and that we couldn’t continue without our luggage, we figured we were stuck for the night).

We checked into Galata West—the hostel where we had been planning on staying at the end of our trip—and tried to make ourselves comfortable despite the fact that we’d been wearing the same clothes for 24 hours and mine were probably covered in puke. Honestly, at this point I probably could have slept anywhere … except a plane; I’d tried. They technically didn’t have a room available, which was particularly bad news after we’d made the steep climb up to the hostel and given how exhausted we were. But another group had failed to check in and they figured it was safe turning their room over to us.

We spent the next day waiting around the hostel and begging a Turkish-speaking staff member to call the airline and check the status of our luggage. By 7 p.m.—more than 24 hours after we’d arrived and well after we thought they would deliver our luggage to the hostel—they still hadn’t sent the luggage from the airport so Colin and I went on a last-minute rescue mission. We hopped the Metro and raced to the airport where 45 minutes, several rude employees, and a form later, we were successfully reunited with our luggage.

Our goal had been to catch the overnight bus to Cappadocia—which was what we’d planned to do the previous evening, and we didn’t want to lose too much time from our scheduled itinerary. We hopped in a taxi and after much difficult explained that we wanted to go to the “otogar” which was the bus station.

He drove us to the Metro station and we arrived about twenty minutes before the final bus to Cappadocia. I’d read in Lonely Planet that it’s against the FullSizeRenderlaw for unmarried men and women to sit next to each other, and that the bus company’s usually got around the rule by labeling both tickets “bay” for “man” as opposed to “bayan” for “women” and “bay” for “man.” Sure enough, I looked down at my ticket and it was labeled “bay” right next to my name—same as Colin’s. It seemed silly that such a rule would exist if no one felt strongly about enforcing it, but I was grateful they wouldn’t try to force Colin and I to sit separately.

A man grabbed our bags and handed us plastic tokens. We had just enough time to run to the bathroom before climbing aboard our bus.

For an 11-hour bus ride with no bathroom onboard, the ride was surprisingly pleasant. We stopped every three or four hours, giving us time to get food or use the bathroom. Colin and I quickly learned that most of the bathrooms charge 1 lira (about 50 cents) to use the bathroom, and most of the bathrooms were the typical hole in the ground with small foot rests on either side of the hole and a bucket for cleanup. I was first introduced to these bathrooms when I visited Morocco, and I remember being quite uncomfortable and horrified by the fact that I would be forced to modify how I went to the bathroom. I guess it’s a mark of how far I’ve come as a traveler, but the bathrooms, besides something smelling unpleasant, didn’t phase me at all.

I actually managed to sleep a fair amount of the time on the bus, and at one point I woke up to Colin telling me to buckle my seatbelt and asking me to remind him to tell me something when the trip was over. I figured it was in my best interest not to press for details.

The sun seemed to rise all at once and as we climbed and then descended into Goreme, the fairy chimneys—those phallic rock formations about which I had read and heard so much—began to appear. Along with houses carved into the stone that looked like they’d come straight from a fairytale. There were one or two hot air balloons still hovering above the chimneys.

I was utterly charmed. I was prepared to leave the past 48 hours behind me and embrace the unique landscape and opportunity to finally start eating Turkish food.

We got off the bus and began our attempts to recover our luggage. But the Metro employee pulled all the luggage from beneath the bus, and we were forced to confront the same fact we’d had to deal with a day earlier with the airline: our luggage was not there. In confusion and desperation we showed the employee our tokens and he led us to the Metro office where an irate man yelled the location of our luggage: “Your bags are in Istanbul!” Perhaps someone once told him that the best way to break bad news to people is to shout it at them angrily.

This was a sort of mental breaking point. I had been sick. We had lost our luggage. We had just barely recovered our luggage—had not even had time to change out of our disgusting clothes, in fact—and now we learned our luggage was another 24 hours away. The Metro employee was willing to have it sent on the next night’s bus, but that wasn’t going to arrive for another day, and in our despair, we began to imagine that it might not arrive at all.

This is why I jokingly call (the first part of) our Turkey trip, The Bad Luck Turkey Trip. It was sort of laughable how badly it was all going. At least, it would have been laughable if our clothes didn’t smell so damn bad. It’s alright though because (SPOILER) things start to look up a little in part 2 of the Turkey saga, titled “Too much wind.”

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