Sunday, 31 July 2016

Discovering Istanbul – West meets East …. Where culture collide

After an adventure hitchhiking for the first time I was finally in Istanbul. Modern Istanbul to be correct and it was something of a peekaboo experience for me. Islamic culture never really catches my attention, since growing up in an Islamic country like Malaysia we sort of think we knew what an Islamic country is about. Like an old saying in Malay – Bagai Katak Dalam Tempurung !

City of Istanbul - Turkey

The Hamman

The very first thing I did in Istanbul was to source out the Hamman. It is something that one must experience in Turkey for I have never seen anything close to it, even the bath in Hungary. So a pocket guide map from the hostel and I trace down one of the oldest Hamman in Istanbul …. Since Year 1584. Authenticity … I wanted the real thing …. Not the best nor the most luxurious … but the real shit.
Cemberlitas Hamman - Istanbul
 Do you want a full service or a self-service the nice lady counter asked pointing at the price chart.
While Yebba went for the Full service I opted for the self-service, for side-lining my eyes to the right I saw a few heavyweight fat bald moustache elderly man in their towels, slowly swish slapping themselves with another small towel waiting to manhandle anyone that opted the full service. To be sincere I was afraid they would break my bones accidentally. Full service comes with a massage and a full body scrub down and full use of the facility which we had no idea what it was till we were in it.
Girls and Boys don’t mix … separate Hamman. Blasphemy if one would even try to peekaboo either side. Hence here on out whatever is written is purely on the boys side. Oh and since no camera was allowed … no photos …sry
Into the bath house up a second floor where I was shown into a tiny cubicle room where one could just rest or change or get ready to go into the Hamman. There was no pool or common soak area or such. In fact there was a large round slab of stone in the middle that was heated up and hot water that was piped into small little corners where one could go and wash up themselves. The room was slightly steamed like a sauna and male attendants would give you a full service if you paid for it upfront.
Thou I did not paid for it I saw what went down. A male attendant for a male …. With a body scrub first they scrub you hard-core down everywhere other than the privets. I have to say it looks amazing and torturous at the same time.  I just lay down at the large hot stone and daze …. Sweating everything out before being intoxicated by the heat. The place felt like being in a Mosque, all the fine intricate cravings and mosaic patterns and a skylight reflected though many intricate glass mirrors and colourful tiles that somehow dazzles the eyes.
Although I told Yebba 2 hours should be long enough, I manage to last a full 45 minutes before giving up and having to come out of the room. All men had a small towel to cover themselves but other than that we were practically naked. Steam, sleep, shower …. Repeat.
Yebba had a blast with the massage and body scrub and check out all the beautiful girls in the women side of the bath house …. How we men wish we were there ….
The Blue Mosque
Next was the blue mosque …. Always trying to get to the Blue Mosque …. Sad to say in the 5 full days I was in Istanbul, I never made it to the Blue Mosque. Istanbul is big with lots of things to see and somehow we were always side tracked getting lost exploring the nooks of the city. Layers upon Layers of culture and dream was built into Istanbul.
Mosque in Istanbul
Still I visited a fair share of Mosque in Istanbul, just not the Blue one … the Mosque here was more liberal, even more than in Malaysia I would say. Istanbul being a very tourist hub draws loads of tourist that thrives the economy but also teaches the locals tolerance to the oblivious and obnoxious tourist.
Why do I say this? Well I was walking around with two Australian kids. Young spirited Ecila and Yebba, short pants and a tiny shirt that is semi-transparent due to light colours Ecila was strolling around with full confidence in every Mosque we visited and gathered a lot of stares. Ah the temptation of oblivion. Yebba had the respect to cover up as a princess best she could after my previous long explanation of people and culture and mutual respect.
Loose the sunglasses Yebba.
Do you wear sunglasses to church Yebba?
Yea, wats wrongs with it she retorted.
I rolled my eyes and left Yebba alone with her sunglasses but after a bit she took them off.
At one of the Mosque, Ecila and her free spirit finally sat down next to me at the raised pedestal outside the main hall, the courtyard. What I did not realized at that time was that I was sitting on the left side of the raised pedestal … - For the male, while Yebba and Ecila should be on the right side where there was lovely intricate wooden screen to obscure the full view of women from the man. Ecila and Yebba sat down next to me and a minute later they started lying down trying to get a suntan like it was the most normal thing to do in the mosque.
Don’t do that ….
Why ???
How do you explain these things to a 8 year old kid ???? Do you force them to listen or do you educate them …. The latter is harder said than done when trying to explain abstract ideas.
I dunnu about you girls but I dun feel comfortable that you are trying to suntan in a mosque ….
Left it at that to shimmer and within a few minutes they raised up, looked around and you could genuinely see the embarrassment on their face
If I was too sensitive, the people of Istanbul was very considerate and understanding, for other than the stare of envy there was no stares of disgust. I was very much humbled by the experience of the Istanbul people and the way they viewed religion.
The Bazaar
Whoever painted the picture of Ali Baba and the forty thieve and middle east as a Bazaar crazy culture did not get it entirely wrong I guess. Sometimes it’s all true.

Trinkets in Istanbul Bazaar
Trinkets Trinkets everywhere. I love the bazaar and the heat that comes with it. It was like looking for that one item of precious magic lamp in the heap of junk. No Magical Gennie for me in the end but it was something that one dun get to experience everyday … if you have someone that like to shop throw them into the bazaar while one wonders around admiring the relic structure itself.

Grand Bazaar Entrance - Istanbul

Internal Architectural Works of the Grand Bazaar Istanbul 
Red Tea - Turkey

Of all the things to do in Turkey …. My favourite was the simple red tea … Just find a right shop and enjoy the view.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Hitchhiking from Plovdiv to Istanbul

I went to the bus station in the morning only to find all my plans in ruins. All bus fully book. Only one bus at 7pm with last remaining seat that would reach Istanbul at 230 in the morning. Next available bus was tomorrow

I took a cab back to the Crib hostel …. My head in dilemma thinking how to get out of the Plovdiv wormhole. It did not took Yebba much to convince me to hitch hike with her to Istanbul but I was not in the chirpiest mood of doing it either.
Yebba was the Glass half full while I was the Glass half empty

Get ready I said for we need all the daylight we could get.
Got a cardboard from Yoskov the owner of the Crib hostel to write Istanbul on in, Catch a cab  and headed out to the highway in the direction of Istanbul.

It was the beginning of a crazy adventure for me and Yebba hitchhiking to Istanbul
The First Ride

The Start of a Hitchhiking adventure
Armed with a cardboard written Istanbul I and Yebba was at the offshoot just outside the city limits of Plovdiv along the main road that people would have to hit if they were to head towards Istanbul direction.

Last of my money about 4.20 lav we spend on the taxi and I and Yebba have no more Bulgarian money at all. I still had euro and pounds and us dollars on me but they were useless at that point or even if I did manage to use them it would be bad since it was in big notes.

Moment of truth I guess and we prepare our self on the side of the road. Almost immediately a guy started walking towards us and guess what, he had a cardboard as well and was hitchhiking somewhere else. We had competition. If there was nothing worst during hitchhiking it was hitchhiking behind another. He was a smart one as well and walk up the road to be the first in line of vision.
Yebba being a girl and wearing a sexy short pants, sunglasses and stylish hat was gung ho in trying to get us a ride. I sat on my backpack and held the sign while Abbey held out the thumb. Within minute she was walking up and down, dancing, shaking her butt and doing the craziest things a hitchhiker would do short of flashing to get a ride. In short … she has seen too many chick flick TV.

My Crazy Hitchhiking Partner

We got a lot of attention alright and I said at least it was a good sign that people do look at us and gave us a thumbs up thou they did not stop. Half an hour later I even notice drivers from opposite direction give us the horn and thumbs up. WTH I said and Yebba replied …. It’s because I am shaking my ass. *roll’s eyes*
It hit me then that we would never get a ride this way as cute as it seam. Drivers was dancing behind their wheels when they saw Yebba’s dance at the side of the road, thumbs up, a wave, a horn and a cheeky smile from almost every driver but who the f*ck would pick up a crazy bitch that was dancing to get a ride. If I was driving I would think twice or if I were horny I would stop straight away but I guess me an Asian guy being around next to Yebba kinda ruin the horny people approach.

An hour passed. …. Wanna swap ?? I asked Yebba
So her turn to sit down and hold the sign Istanbul and I stood up and raised my thumb. The boring approach, no dancing no hanky panky just sombre hitch hiker trying to get a ride. I did my best to look not at the car but at the drivers eyes as much as I could. I like to think it was my puppy eyes pleading that got us a ride but you’ll never know. The fact was I got us a ride.

The first ride … now we were on the road and away from Plovdiv this hitch hiking was really happening. Before the first hitch there was a safety net of just going back to the hostel but now that we were on the road, it was committed and we had to get to Istanbul or at least a safe zone for the night. It was about 2pm when we got the first ride.
Our first kind soul named Georgie was a Bulgarian on the way to the border town between Bulgaria and Turkey called Svilengrad. I guess it was a bit ambitious thinking we would get a whole ride in one hitch. Georgie was an ex-military and police force. A paratrooper in fact and he was on his way to pick up his wife after the Ramadan holidays. His English was not that good and after a good 20 minutes of introductions and effort trying to mime and chat I left the conversation to Abbey in the front seat and dozed off.

I remember Rich & Mike (A pair of British I met whom hitchhiked from Indonesia to England) once said to me that sooner or later you will doze off in the car when hitch hiking. You can only hold conversation for so long.
Border Crossing Bulgaria to Istanbul
Border Crossing Bulgaria to Istanbul
Georgie left us smack at the border. Then it was the question if it was even possible to walk across the border. Yebba was convince that we needed a car to cross the border and that we could not just walk across. No one would pick us up at the border I said. Too dodgy. I would never pick up someone at the border for sure. What happens if he was a drug mule …. Or what happen if a drug mule wants two dumb tourist to camouflage his van ??

Into Turkey
We walk to the nearest counter and asked the immigration officer I said … and they were nice enough to process it and told us that we could walk through no problem. Ironic and I could not help a big grin as we stand there in the car lot blocking the Car behind us while we process our passport. Between Bulgaria and Turkey it was a 500m walk at most. In between they even had a duty free building and toilets and food breaks and a money changer.
Border Crossing Bulgaria to Turkey
4pm …. We got food changed some Turkish Lira and headed out to the Turkey side of immigration. Malaysian Passport … no visa required …. Free entry. Australian passport go buy your visa …. 50 euro. I have to say we crossed that border pretty fast on foot for all the cars were lined up like ants we could just walk up and cut the queue of the car line. There was no pedestrian counter only car and busses counter. We just walk up and cut queue since we dun have a car and got a stamp as if we were driving.

Hello Turkey …. But the hitch hiking was not over yet … round two … time to work that ass again Yebba.

The Second Ride

Unknown to me, while I was trying to walk out of the small road towards the main fork going to Istanbul Abbey was putting her thumb out while following me behind. A guy (name forgotten – and shall be named Mothom ) in his pick up truck stopped and could not speak English but asked us to jump in anyway. Inside we manage to communicate a little and he said he could give us a ride as far as Erdine or slightly further down the highway.

The Road after the Turkey Border
Luck was on our side we thought ….

On The Road Again to Turkey
He pulled over for diesel, bought us cans drinks, 20 minutes later he pulled over the first rest stop and decided to hang around for some chit chat. He was also fascinated with Yebba. I asked him about family if he had one …. And he said no …. He asked us the same and we said no. When Yebba said no he pointed at her and himself and said family. I thought it was a joke and so did Yebba at that time ….. only later did it get really creepy.

I think he got us like 60 km from the border and dropped us of smack on the highway, a three lane highway. There was an offshoot road which he was heading and we were going straight to Istanbul.
Round 3 of working. Yebba was up again. I guess we see too many movies that girls are easier to be picked up hitch hiking. Ironically she got no hitch. No dancing this time but the pose she was doing did crack me up inside. Stick the butt out, hand on the hips, big smile, cocked head and all.

5 minutes later Mothom was pulled over on the other side of the road. He must have made a big turn to get back to the highway and he was pointing at us and saying something or waving.
It went on for a while till me and Yebba realized what he was trying to say. Him & Yebba go back to his home …. Please with the both hands clap together. When Yebba pointed to me and her and him, immediately he shakes his head and repeated the same order … only Him & Yebba …. Go back to his home ….. We raised the sign Istanbul and what we understood was He and Yebba back to his home then he bring her to Istanbul ….. I was not in the equation …. But was too amused by what was happening that I was laughing so hard. Yebba was freaked out ….

The Third Ride

I put my thumbs up, nod my head and wave him to our side ….. a big grin and Yebba was clueless what I was doing. I was not sure what I was doing either but I knew trying to talk to someone across a 6 way lane using hand signals was getting us nowhere. Might as well get him to our side to see what he is offering …. We were stuck here anyway ….

Mothom with a happy nod and grin drove off needing to get to the next town before he could make a U-turn …. Meanwhile …. I put out my thumb again …. 10 minutes later a huge ass trucker slam the brakes just as he passed us and stopped further up. I did not bother to think about running up and asking … pick up the bags I told Yebba … run … go up … lets go ….
Not until we were inside with all our bags and the trucker had ease his way back onto the highway that we confirmed he was going to Istanbul ….. all the way to Istanbul ….. we were going to make it after all … it was 5pm now …..

Our Trucker Ride to Istanbul
Younos was the trucker name and he was the kindest soul we had met hitchhiking. Sitting inside that huge cargo truck with him driving through Turkey was precious. Alas English was not his best language but we did manage small talks with lots of guesswork. About 7pm he said he was going to stop for food if it was ok. Sure …. Not like we could force him to drive on anyway. When he did stop a whole party of truckers stopped together too.
We were all introduced to the gang.

Truckers unite and they all opened up their mini kitchen and cooked up a feast. Not only did we got picked up by Younos, we got fed too … Atar was the main cook, Hidayat a friendly chap and Enjin the one with the most English vocab.

This experience is something that makes me remember why I travel …. It’s the Journey before Destination.

Younos Cooking Dinner - Truckers style

Younos Trucker Gang & My Hitchiking Partner

After dinner we hopped back onto the truck only to be driven into a massive traffic jam. Night has fallen and by approximation it was a mere 100km from Istanbul now. It was going to be a hard final leg I felt.

Younos left us at the outskirts of Istanbul, the closest he could get without actually turning into the city which would be a problem for him since he was driving a big truck and city roads might not allow it. The point where he dropped us thou he thought there was metro nearby but only after we were offloaded that I realized there was no such metro nearby. It was still a good 25 km from the downtown.

I would have to say this about Younos …. He was really kind. I gave him a momento for the kindness he showed me …. A 20 Ringgit Bill. He would not accept it at all. His face actually looked horrified when I brought out the money. It was as if I was robbing his good karma by trying to give him money. He kept pointing at it with a frown and said “money?” …. It was the Ringgit after all and he had no idea how much it was worth …. I feel bad that he must have thought it a brownie point was robbed off his shoulder but then again the Ringgit was worthless in Turkey.
(To Note being from Malaysia means when travelling to odd places the Ringgit Bill is a lovely suvinior/momento to let people remember you since Malaysia is really Tiny hence I always bring some small change for those special moments)

Momento of me …. I said … from Malaysia. Not for using … worthless money … for remembering …. And he reluctantly accepted finally understanding that I was not trying to give him money but a momento of myself from Malaysia only with a frown that it was still money only in different form.

Dropped off the Highway of Istanbul …. Well technically we were in Istanbul since Istanbul was really huge, a 100 KM diameter city we were still too far from the downtown …. 11pm at night … highway …. and almost no chance of a hitch. In fact it was more dangerous just being at the side of the road for I was pretty sure no one could see is in that darkness.

The Forth Ride
We started walking the road leading off the highway and me navigating using google maps. Not even 20 minutes we notice a car pulled up infront of us …. Walking closer the car put in reverse and slowly inch itsway towards us.

3 young guys with eyes that could not believe what they were seeing greeted us. Non of them could speak much English but they were kind enough to gave us a ride even if they had no idea where we were going at that point.

We hopped on and they started driving like a maniac …. A modified sports car of sorts with a fucking big ass subwoofer in the trunk. Not knowing how to communicate I passed them my phone with the google maps and a bookmark point showing where the hostel is.
The 3 guys were intense studying and was on a mission to get me and Yebba there. I was pretty sure they were enjoying Yebba vibe. Pump the music she said, … hands in the air and the car went even faster …. Fortunately we got to the hostel in one piece.

The three guys ignored me mostly …. And wanted Yebba Facebook … party tomorrow night they said …. Poor guys for Yebba could not find herself on the Facebook ….. We could not even remember their names
Check in Hostel … midnight … what a day.

Nearly 450km … 12 hours and 4 kind souls …. Hitchhiking from Plovdiv to Istanbul

Friday, 15 July 2016

Clubbing in Plovdiv and Cooking up a storm

It was the start of the wormhole in The Crib Hostel Plovdiv. It was supposed to be a slow day, got groceries in the morning which we were to cook lunch with it but ended up cooking dinner with it. I ended up cooking dinner with some help from Greyson. Stir fry vegetarian pasta. It went well I think and everything was finish before I even got a taste of it. After dinner the living room became a wormhole of discussion of life and memories

I think that was the beginning but then again it was always interesting around this hostel in Plovdiv. After dinner we thought it would be a quiet home drinking but young 22 year old Yebba wanted to party. She got dress in this sexy dominitrix outfit and soon almost all of us was dressed up and out the door by 1am.

Crazy night started then. Pub which was more or less empty became our dance floor. A good mix ratio of guys to girls and Yerg manage to picked up two local hot Bulgarian girls. The girls of course suggested somewhere else and we all followed the big bunch of us. A nightclub just outskirts of the city centre with a pool in the middle and dominitrix dancer on a floating platform.
(Imagine me Rolling my Eyes with a big forehead Sweat --- this scene looks too much like a typical American teenage road trip in Europe)

Yebba wanted spotlight kept going on stage to dance with the girls only to be kick out of the nightclub sooner than we expected. No one even knew she was kicked out. She just went missing and we just kept doing our shit. Me drinking whiskey, Ecila and Yerg with the sexual tension rising started kissing, and Pigae in a deep dark conversation with the French guys. Mit having a time of his life (He was American and it was exactly how he imagine it to be! … Insert Smack forehead emoticon please.) and Adna (Mit GF) with her worried face while Hal-El was wasted and going full Israeli on me for not dancing and going crazy in the night club. (if you don’t conform you are out apparently). Plus Etan somewhere between Ecila and Yerg I think.

The night ended with Etan excusing himself, Yerg and Ecila ditching us and I leading the rest of the pack back to the hostel walking. One f*cking crazy night where I was the touch stone safe person to ensure everyone was ok. We all got back about 5am in the morning … woke up grogy and everyone extended one more night in the Crib Hostel. This hostel was sucking us in big time.
How many days has it been in Plovdiv …. I think it was the third day if memory serves right and a whole new bunch of guys checked in the hostel. Big humongous conversation shooting everywhere in the common room and I cooked dinner again that night for 13 person.

Maggie Goreng Edwin special …. I had no idea what I was really doing improvising most of the time and guessing the amount of mixture for mass cooking 13 people. Luckily it was not the only dish and Yebba this time was my partner in crime. She was cooking up some Mexican shit but ended up tasting something else but we all agree it was tasty and ate the like goblins out of it.
Some comments I got while cooking ….

Is that instant Noodle ??
You can fry instant Noodle ??
Wait you stir frying the instant noodle powder as well ??? Dafaq ??

How can you stir fry everything!!!!
(I Stir fry everything that night to mixed it into the Instant noodle)

That’s Dinner ??

The Verdict …. I had no idea how it tasted for it finished before I could even finish washing up and got a plate.