My unforgettable journey
A week on Turkish railways
It seemed a good idea – a week in nearby Turkey, with Mrs B booking the hotels, and I the train journeys. And so it proved.
After a relatively short flight from North Cyprus to the Turkish capital Ankara, the fun started for real.
Our first train was the high-speed service from Ankara to the university city of Eskisehir. A total of 210km in just one hour and ten minutes and no stops! Everything about this train was classy. Business class was just the same as it would be on a plane. Except for the price. It was so, so cheap compared to most European services. Easily affordable, even on an ex-pats small pension!
The seats were roomy and comfortable, each with a fully functioning individual entertainment centre, including a screen which showed in real time where the train was, how fast it was travelling, and other fascinating details that satisfied this railway geek.
Of course, there were copious free snacks and drinks, though alcohol, sadly, is not allowed on public transport in Turkey.
Never mind, such was the speed of this train, there was plenty of extra time for some fine wine in our boutique hotel, which was situated right behind a tram station – Eskisehir is a fine modern city, well worth a visit.
Next day began what was a 2-day ride south, from Eskisehir to Denizli, which is the closest station to the famous Pamukkale thermal pools. So Mrs B arranged that we would take a break from what would be a nine hour, 500km journey, at roughly the half-way mark, and stay the night in the city of Afyon. (It’s full name is Afyonkarahisar, hence the shortening.)
To do this, we caught the Pamukkale Express. And any notion either of us had that this would be similar to the first train was quickly dispelled. First of all, it was not an Express. In fact, it stopped at all 25 stations! Some of these stations were in the middle of a field, with no apparent buildings or other sign of life except for the station-master. It was a diesel-hauled train of just three coaches, although they had reclining seats, but with no drink or snack facilities. So the mid-journey break was a great plan. The stunning scenery of the mountains and surrounding countryside made the four-hour journey pass rapidly.
So we alighted at Afyon, to stay the night and catch the very same train down to Denizli the next day. Where was the hotel? We asked the station official, and he scratched his head, looked up and down the train, still waiting in the platform, and instructed us to re-board it! He then got us to get out on the “wrong” side of the coach, where there was no platform, but three separate railway lines. We clambered over these lines with all our luggage, and we were on our way to the hotel.
We still couldn’t find it, and must have looked like lost holidaymakers, because a car packed with youngsters stopped alongside us, the driver enquiring whether we were ok. When we told him the name of the hotel we were trying to find, he ordered his four mates out of the car, took our luggage, and dropped us outside the hotel front door. And wouldn’t accept a penny (or Turkish Lira) for his troubles.
We checked in, and the friendly staff informed us that Mrs B could go swimming in the pool in the morning, but I was only allowed to in the afternoon. When we went exploring round the rest of the hotel, it didn’t take long for us to realise that this was a strictly Muslim hotel, and, of course, a dry one! Don’t get me wrong, the staff and other guests were wonderfully friendly and forthcoming to us, and our room had a huge Turkish bath which was fun, but it wasn’t what we were used to. Thank goodness for Mrs B having stashed an emergency bottle of whisky in the luggage…..
The next day, we caught the train to complete our journey to Denizli, with the vista outside even more stunning and spectacular. Another brilliant boutique hotel at Pamukkale, with loads of wine and other goodies on offer, making us ready to explore the thermal pools in the morning.
If you ever get the chance to go there, please take it. It’s incredible, and we spent two happy days there before the return journey back to Eskisehir, and then onwards back to Ankara. And if you get the chance, go by train. It’s still as cheap as chips, and there’s no better way of seeing Turkey.
A Personal Journey
When we first started talking about journeys as a Blog subject I thought about my first trip to Moscow. As an American (of a certain age) I had read about Moscow all my life and now I got to see the place.
But that’s a cop-out and I know it.
My real journey starts out with some seemly innocuous facts, facts that combined to make me who I am today, facts that destroyed my childhood.
- My birthday is First, September.
- I am male
- School starts First, September
In the U.S., in many school districts if you are born on my birthday you may choose which year you want to start school. Again, that may not sound like a life-altering event.
I clearly remember a woman from the school, my parents and me standing out on a covered sidewalk outside school – it looked huge. The adults talked if over and they decided they would let me decide if I wanted to start school this year or next year. It was explained to me if I started this year I would finish a year earlier in my teen-aged years.
This was a decision that never should have been made by a child. Let me explain; I decided it sounded good to finish a year younger so I said I would start in a couple of weeks.
By definition I was always the youngest boy in every class. That means I was always the smallest boy. Not that I was small for my age mind you, but the smallest boy. I couldn’t throw the ball as far or run as fast.
That means I was always picked last when choosing-up teams for PE. I remember the other boys would grown when I was forced to play on their team. I carried scars I didn’t even know I had. I began to play the role that had been assigned to me.
Always a little nerdy and occasionally bullied, I was the guy who worked the lights at the dance in the Gym. That was because I didn’t have a girl friend. It was a role I had assigned to myself years ago.
Reading the above, it may sound like I feel sorry for myself. No, once you reach a certain age you are able to look back and see how things shaped your life and these are the things that made me who I am. I’m quite comfortable in my own skin and no longer believe the things I told myself all those years ago.
It was a single decision that started a journey that took two-thirds of a life time to complete. I suppose in some ways I have it better than most. I can point to a date certain and an event. It allowed me to know who I am and how I got here on this journey.
Given the above, you would assume that I take little interest in sports — and you would be right. I like animals better than people. Very, very few people really know me. The difference between me and most folks is that I can tell you why. I wouldn’t wish a First, September birthday on any boy; but it made me who I am and I think I’m alright.
To the end of the world
I’ve done a few journeys in my life and (almost) each of them was memorable in one way or another.
Sure, the most memorable journey so far was the one that I made back in May 2011. Actually, this journey, that was only 10 days in length, took me literally uncounted years to happen.
It started long time ago, back in the 1980s when, as a timid Soviet schoolboy, I was gulping Jack London’s ‘Smoke Bellew’ and all those Yukon tales, including an epic sled dog race story that Smoke managed to win at Dawson city.
It continued when I was wandering through the world map checking out what was in its North-Eastern corner, beyond the Russian Far East and the Chukotka peninsula. What an unknown out-of-the-world land was there… on the other side of the International Time Line meridian?
It struck me once when I got to know that this land was once Russian and its weird name itself, the Russian America, sounded like an oxymoron to me taking into account that Russia and America were the arch-enemies at the time…
It went through the years almost dimmed and suddenly resurged in 2007 when I saw the cover of the Russian travel magazine ‘Vokrug Sveta’ (‘Around the World’) with a picturesque Alaskan landscape depicting a Russian Orthodox church and the gorgeous snow-covered mountain peaks on the background. I still keep that paper with me.
It took shape at the Russian Reader’s Digest office in 2010 when I sold the idea to produce a documentary there dedicated to the location’s Russian heritage. Then I called up my film production guys and the whole team made a 20-hour long trip via New York and Seattle.
It was an expedition of a lifetime when our team of five plus John Markel, our wonderful production support man there, himself a true Alaskan, traversed all main historical and cultural spots there from Sitka to Kodiak
I’ve done so many discoveries there of my own both for people and places, making the dream come true and getting to know things I didn’t know exist.
In fact, it was not just the most exciting but also the longest journey I’ve ever done in my life.
It’s still on. I’ve made a comeback in 2017 for a 3-months stay there, getting into its depths, both for people, locations and the lifestyle. Now I know the local map.
I will come back for more at some point of my life. There’re still some things I’ve got to see and feel.
The biggest thing is that I think I know what the ‘Spirit of Alaska‘ means.