Let It Snow

I hate winter. I don’t like shivering with cold, I don’t like thick, bulky winter clothes and I particularly don’t like the overcast skies that dampen my mood. So it’s ironic that when I travelled to Turkey to escape winter, it was the first time I saw snow falling.

When I was studying in Italy, I had a 3 week break over the Christmas and New Year period. I have an extensive travel list and so understandably I spent a long time trying to decide where to go. I was torn between two things: 1) having an authentic European winter and white Christmas and 2) escaping to somewhere a little bit warmer. In the end Turkey won due to the average temperature in December being 8-15C (and by leaving the EU for 2 weeks meant that in total my time there came under the 90 day rule so I didn’t need a VISA!).

4 days before I arrived in Istanbul there was a storm that completely covered the city in snow, but by the time I arrived the snow had melted, there were blue skies and glorious, glorious sun! Apart from crazy wind in Troy, the sun followed me all of the way. Until Cappadocia…

IMG_6373

On the drive from Konya to Cappadocia was when I saw the snow. I had only seen snow three times before (when mum and dad took my brother and I when we were little, when I went skiing in the Pyrenees and on the best day of my life at Zermatt) so I still get overly excited!

We stopped at the Agzikarahan Caravanserai and sure enough there was snow. My tour guide talked about the Caravanserai but I could barely listen, and this is saying something because I am a history nerd! Instead, I was too busy staring at the whiteness and nudging it with my foot. I contained my excitement until he finished talking before I started to play with it.

IMG_6310

First things first: make a snowball. Touching snow still fascinates me. I always imagined it to be soft and powdery, like a cloud, and this statement is probably really obvious to all you snow experts but it’s more like ice. Or a slushie you get from the service station. And it’s not always white. Again, it should be obvious that when there isn’t much snow it will mix with the dirt, but please cut me some slack! When you read books about Santa at the North Pole or watch Frozen there are no brown bits in the snow.

I think it is beautiful how it nestles on the tree branches. I think it is even more beautiful when after a few good shakes of the tree it breaks free and slowly dances to the ground. A few of us snow novices stood under the trees and pretended it was snowing.

And then it DID start. It was falling so lightly I didn’t even notice until someone nudged me and whispered “It’s snowing.” “I know,” I replied, “We’re shaking the trees.” “No. It’s REALLY snowing!”

IMG_6300

Sure enough if you concentrated you could see the tiny white specks. They were like raindrops. But lighter. And softer. And they don’t make you wet.

I tried to catch one but to no avail. Another misconception: they don’t look like this:

I didn’t want to get back on the bus as I was enjoying the little winter wonderland but I did and we continued onto Cappadocia and Göreme. Unfortunately/fortunately by the time we got to the    Open Air Museum it was sunny.

IMG_6342 IMG_6352  IMG_6346

The next day was a different story.

When I woke up it was -10. The hotel I was staying at did not have adequate heating, I actually wonder if it had any heating at all, but at least it gave me an idea of what to expect that day. I knew I’d have to rug up. The thing is, Australia doesn’t do winter. My brothers host mum in Belgium laughed at my warm “Winter” jacket and said it was something they would wear in Spring. A family in Prato laughed when I came inside their warm house and had to shred about 4 layers of my Australian “Winter” clothes. They called me a ‘cipole.’ I didn’t understand why I was being called an onion until the famous line “onions have layers” came flooding back to me. I can quote that whole scene in English but my Italian is not that sophisticated… (Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. What about cake? Everybody loves cake!”)

IMG_6389

So this is what I wore on my second day in Cappadocia: 1) tights 2) second pair of tights 3) socks) 4) a pair of long socks 5) Jeans 6) Lined (Australian) boots 7) singlet 8) long sleeve thermal 9) long sleeve top 10) second long sleeve top 11) ballet wrap 12) jumper 13) cardigan 14) thick jumper 15) my spring/winter coat 16) scarf 17) beanie 18) gloves.

IMG_6377

I felt so fat and padded. I could barely move. Was I warm with my 18 layers? HELL NO! I have never been so cold in my life. My fingers and toes were numb. Actually I take that back. They weren’t numb, they HURT!

Normally I will stay out all day, doing and seeing anything and everything I possibly can and if I am on a tour I am the last person back on the bus. Not this time. I lasted about 20 minutes at each stop before I climbed back on the bus and huddled in a ball.

IMG_6379

Despite this I loved Cappadocia and I am really glad I got to see it covered in snow. I went to Turkey to try and escape winter and for the most part I did. If I had my time again would I change anything? No way! I may have almost frozen but I still loved it and still think snow is magical. But maybe only in small doses…IMG_6428

Advertisements

Was This Nostalgic Plovdiv Just A Dream?

IMG_3429I’ve been a lucky traveller. I haven’t been mugged, I haven’t had anything stolen (although I’ll never know what happened to my camera in France :(), I haven’t missed a flight although I’ve been close, or had my luggage lost. The scariest thing that has happened to me (apart from getting struck by lightning) is getting lost.

I had loved my time in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. I thought it was a thriving new city with a beautiful old town. After spending a decent time happily and aimlessly wandering the old town, I thought I’d best head back to the new town to get lunch. I’d slept through my alarm that morning and skipped breakfast in order to make my bus so it was fair to say I was famished.

IMG_3492

The old town is on a hill and I walked down the steep, uneven, cobblestone path back to the road. I crossed the main road and that’s when I realised something wasn’t right. There had been a church right before the traffic lights and now there wasn’t. I ruled out the possibility it had been demolished in 2 hours and decided I’d just come down the hill at a different spot. Easy, I thought, I’ll just turn left and walk back along the road to where I was certain the new town was. Little did I know I had come down the hill on the other side…

10 minutes later I came across a market hall. Now alarm bells really started ringing. I had definitely not walked past this earlier. “It’s ok,” I thought. “There has to be a sign or map somewhere.” Yes, there were plenty of signs but they were all in cyrillic. I felt a panic attack starting. I started to breath really quickly and my palms started sweating. “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok,” I tried to reassure myself. “You can ask someone for directions.”

5 minutes past. I didn’t see a soul. Of course at 11am on a Sunday morning there will be no one about. “Go into the market place. Surely there will be someone there.” Good idea brain! I went back and … CLOSED.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Suddenly I saw some people. I ran over to them.

“Dobro utro. Angliiski?”

They shook their heads and kept walking, paying no attention to the lost, lonely traveller.

By now I really couldn’t breathe. My heart was pounding. I was sweating from both the heat and the fear. My mind was racing “You’ll never get home, you’ll be lost forever, you’re in some remote area of Bulgaria, you are an easy target, your story will be the inspiration for the next Taken movie.” Now not only did I have all these horrible thoughts racing though my mind but horrible images of being thrown into the back of a van and being a sex slave for the rest of my life because my dad is Liam Neeson.

I have no idea why I did what I did next and I am deeply ashamed.

I called my mum back in Australia.

“Sam! Hello! What are you doing? Is everything amazing? What’s the weath-”

“I’m lost. Help.”

“Ok, where are you?”

“IF I KNEW THAT I WOULDN’T BE LOST,” I cried.

“Alright. What country?”

“Bulgaria. Plovdiv. I need to be at the bus in 20 minutes!.”

“Sam, calm down, I can’t understand you.”

“BULGARIA. PLOVDIV!!!”

“Dad’s getting up google maps. How do you spell Plod – what is it?”

“PLOVDIV!!!”

“Ok, Plovdiv, Bulgaria. That’s an interesting -”

“I’M LOST. I NEED TO BE BACK AT MY BUS!”

“Can you see any street signs?”

“THEY ARE ALL IN CYRILLIC!”

“What’s that?”

“LIKE RUSSIAN SYMBOLS. I CAN’T READ IT!”

“Can you spell the street name?”

“CYRILLIC, MUM! SYMBOLS! I’M GOING TO DIE HERE ALONE!”

I started crying then. Real classy.

“Sam, can you please calm down. It’s ok.”

“I CAN’T. I’M LOST. NOW I ONLY HAVE 10 MINUTES!”

“Can you call your tour guide?”

Silence. Well that would have been the logical solution wouldn’t it? Damn panic.

“Sniff, yes, sniff, I have her number, sniff, she’ll hate me, sniff…”

And then a miracle occurred. I walked around a corner and suddenly I knew where I was!

IMG_3493

“I’VE FOUND IT! I KNOW WHERE I AM! BUT I STILL WON’T MAKE IT TO THE BUS ON TIME! I’M STILL GOING TO DIE ALONE IN BULGARIA!” I panted as I started sprinting down the street.

“Call your tour guide. Tell her you’ll be late.”

“I – pant pant – can’t – puff puff – ”

“I can’t understand you, Sam.”

At that point I hung up on my poor mum and ran and ran and ran past the restaurants with food – oh food my stomach rumbled, past the cafes with the jugs of water – oh water my throat screamed – and I made it back to the bus as everyone was leisurely climbing on.

I ran to my seat, put my sunnies on so no one could see and started to cry – in fear, in relief, in hunger, in exhaustion, in thirst. I let the silent tears fall and started to breathe normally again as I admired the sunflowers out my window. I sent an apologetic text to my mum.IMG_3502

“I’m SO sorry mum. I completely freaked out and reverted to a child for a minute and thought mum will fix it. I’m back on the bus now and I’m ok. Plovdiv is a really awesome place. I loved it. I’m so sorry again. xx”

She replied immediately.

“Even big brave travellers need their mum sometimes. You’re still my little girl. Glad to know you’re ok. Enjoy your day! xx”

Oh dear … I’ve been lost plenty of times before but I guess the heat, the language barrier, my hunger and exhaustion just got to me that day.

I still can’t believe I thought calling mum in Australia would fix it! That’s travel for you. Utterly crazy!!

 

Getting Struck by Lightning and Exploring Ruins

There are three reasons why I think I got struck by lightning in Veliko Tarnevo, Bulgaria:

1) The day before I had stood on the stage of a Roman amphitheatre and Dionysus (Theatre God) wanted to punish me, a mere pleb, for trying to perform.

2) One of the ladies on my tour made a joke that our local guide was secretly a Russian spy and I laughed.

3) 30 minutes before I got hit I had taken a photo in a Church when photography was prohibited.

Here’s what happened …

The sky was ominous. I was amazed at how in the space of a few hours it could go from sweltering hot and sunny to dark and cloudy. From my seat on the bus I watched the trees swaying angrily whilst I listened to my guide talk about the history of the medieval Bulgarian Kings who had made Tarnevo their capital for more than two centuries and then their ultimate defeat at the hands of the Ottomans. He painted a grim scene and the wind howled although also in mourning.

IMG_3541

Our bus weaved its way up the hills to Veliko Tarnevo. We disembarked only to be attacked by the lamenting wind. My guide had talked of the wonderful ruins of Tsarevets Fortress. Most people lasted barely minutes off the bus before deciding their idea of fun was not exploring ruins under a foreboding sky, with a storm well and truly on its way.

IMG_3529

It wasn’t raining, yet, and anyway I wasn’t going to let a little bit of rain bother me so I decided to go exploring. I was alone in my decision. One lady kindly lent me her umbrella. As she gave it to me she warned “I bought it in Singapore with loose change so I’m surprised it’s lasted this long. It’s not very good, but hey, it’s better than nothing!”

The bus continued off to the hotel with everyone either laughing at my braveness? stupidity? or mouthing “good luck” out the window.

It was suddenly just me, a hill with ruins and an impending storm.

IMG_3527

I began walking up the hill going past the cowardly/smart people going back down to the town. The guard smiled and grunted “dobar den” and something else that I’m sure meant “what are you doing?” and pointed to the sky and then to this sign.

IMG_3540

I made a mental note not to try dancing demi-pointe on a crumbling wall on the edge of a cliff.

It began to rain. After a blistering hot day, the droplets were cool and refreshing but this didn’t last long. It started raining harder and harder. The flimsy umbrella stood no chance against the wind and rain and within minutes my clothes were soaking wet, my make-up was running down my face and there were puddles in my shoes. Considering I was already soaking wet I jumped in puddles (there were more puddles than there were paths), twirled my umbrella and pretended I was the lead in ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’

IMG_3569The only thing that even remotely suggested this used to be a fortress were the amount of ruins. It was difficult to make out what any of the crumbling stones were, or used to be, however one thing that was evident was Executioners Rock. Half a tower remained on the edge of the cliff and there was a long, sharp drop into the Yantra River below. As I imagined how horrible it would be to spend your final moments looking into the abyss you were about to be mercilessly pushed into, a crack of thunder shook the hill. It gave me shivers.IMG_3544

IMG_3564

IMG_3555I continued running around now with thunder and lightning to accompany me. Eventually I made my way to Patriarch’s Complex, also called the Church of the Blessed Saviour, the reconstructed church on the top of the hill, trying not to slip on the soggy grass or slippery paths. We owe this reconstruction to the Communists. Being the nerd I am, earlier that day, I asked my local guide how the reconstruction was possible as no new churches were allowed to be constructed during communism. He smiled and patted my shoulder, proud at my astuteness, and told me considering this was a ‘reconstruction’ and not a ‘new church’ it was allowed. The joy of legal loopholes. The joy of being a history nerd!

IMG_3578

IMG_3580It was not the reverie I’d hoped for. The frescos were neo-realist and portrayed a deformed, surreal Christ in black, red and white harsh brushstrokes. There were electric candles illuminating the interior and their eerie glow combined with the thunder outside gave me an uneasy feeling.

IMG_3586I exited into calmer weather. It appeared the storm had stopped. Ironically it was now I decided to slowly make my way back down to the town. 30 minutes later I was almost at the bottom when it started to drizzle again so I put up the poor, cheap umbrella once more.*

IMG_3593

IMG_3596

Suddenly I heard the loudest crash of my life. I screamed in terror, certain a bomb had gone off. It echoed around me and thundered in my ears. Later, back at the hotel, I would be told they thought there had been an explosion. The sky lit up in an eerie glow. There was a flash and I swear I saw a flame come out of the base of the umbrella. There was a sharp sting in my hand holding the umbrella. I screamed again: in pain, in shock, in fear and threw the umbrella.

Some people came running over to me pointing at the umbrella, then their hand and whether they were questioning why I had thrown the umbrella, indicating they had seen the flame or suggesting the same thing happened to them I’ll never know.

IMG_3600

My hand, in fact my whole arm hurt. It no longer stung, but it ached and tingled. I hurried back to my hotel shaking my hand to try and get rid of the strange sensations but to no avail. I was terrified I was going to drop dead but was also laughing hysterically out loud on the street thinking “I think I’ve just been struck my lightning.” ** I was absolutely drenched, my clothes and hair were stuck to my body, my make up had run, I was walking strangely due to the amount of water in my shoes, shaking my hand and laughing. I must have looked like a mad women. Maybe I was. I don’t know many people who go exploring Bulgarian royal ruins in the middle of a thunder storm!

*Why did I put the umbrella up after a thunderstorm? Well it had been at least 30 minutes since I last heard thunder. I thought it had passed and I would be safe.

**A lot of people said “If you were really struck by lightning, wouldn’t you be dead?” Well, we think it was a side flash. That is the lightning struck the tree near me and jumped from that to the umbrella, travelled down the umbrella and into my hand. So by the time it got to my hand, it wasn’t as severe. Regardless I was very lucky.

Turkey: Ephesus

IMG_6032

Oh I do love a good ancient city! If I thought Troy was good, well Ephesus put it to shame! 20 – 30 thousand people visit it PER DAY in Summer and we got told that you often don’t get to see much at all or spend long here because the crowds are just ridiculous! Benefits of travelling in winter means there weren’t too many people here which means more ancient city for me!

IMG_6066

Ephesus was a city where each time we stumbled across something I thought, this is it, this is the highlight of the city, and then we walked around the corner and there was something better – this happened right until the end! There are so many lovely columns with such ornate decoration and we got taught about the different types of them.

IMG_6054

One of the Agora’s is near the enterance of city as is a little amphitheatre, which served as the political centre. Ok it wasn’t little, but bear with me, you will see why I call it little later on. I climbed right to the top and watched everyone down below. I also admired the hills – Ephesus is nestled in between hills and back in the day it was a port city – now the sea is at Kusadasi. Perfect spot for a city – seas on one side, hills on the other, makes it very difficult for your enemies.

IMG_6041

The main street runs downhill and there are heaps of different things to see along here – the old pharmacy, the brothel, the baths, the toilets – a lovely long slab with holes in it (apparently back in the day you used to get your servant to sit on it to warm it up for you! And fair enough, I can only imagine how cold it was in winter!) and then one of the things Ephesus is famous for The Library of Celsus. It is stunning! The columns and the details and carvings and statues just blew me away. I thought this was remarkable and then the final thing we came to was the amphitheatre.

IMG_6052

 

IMG_6083

Oh my gosh. It was HUGE! I climbed right up to the top and sat up here for ages watching the people below, imagining there was something on the stage or gladiators and I also wanted to enjoy the sunshine. It was fantastic!

IMG_6109

 

IMG_6117

Ephesus also is full of cats. They are everywhere. They sit on the columns although they are famous Greek statues, they walk through the streets like they own them. Apologies to all my cat loving friends out there, please don’t disown me, but I hate cats. But these cats don’t care. You can hiss at them, you can clap at them and run at them to try and get them to go away but they are fearless. They stare at you although they are an emperor and you are just a slave.

IMG_6077

Next we drove up into the mountains to visit the home of the Virgin Mary. It is a little humble house (more like a room) but this is apparently where she lived after Jesus died. It’s sweet. There are also fountains here with natural and blessed water.

IMG_6133

Back down the hill to visit one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Temple of Artemis. Or was. Unfortunately there is one coloumn left. But back in the day it would have been spectacular. This is clear by the people who stand there trying to sell you pictures of what it looked like. And then try and follow you on the bus because “you are so beautiful just like Diana herself!”

IMG_6143

I got lunch in Kusadasi and had a great time exploring the streets. It is much more lively in summer when all the cruise ships are coming in and can be quite a party town. Phew! Busy day!

IMG_6158