Thursday, September 16, 2010

Travel bingo

Last week was the end of Ramadan, which means a 3 and a ½ day public holiday, and another chance to go skipping off on an extended weekend away. (Honestly, there’s a hell of a lot written about the religious/secular divide in this country, and with good reason, but as far as I’m concerned the 2 sides can keep on with their bickering so long as it guarantees us the current glut of bank holidays – we get time off for all the big religious holidays, plus a nice little secular/republican set...there's Republic Day, Victory Day, Ataturk Has A Particularly Good Poo it’s all good. Keep at it, insanely divided nation!)

Anyway whatever the excuse, this time as we had a full Wednesday pm to Sunday stretch to play with, we could go a bit further afield, and since S had been missing Greece a lot and I'd never properly been we were headed off there. We ended up going to an island in the north of the Aegean called Samothraki, cos, you know, we don't get enough island experience in our day to day life or anything.

It was a beautiful place, and I may do some facebook based photobragging at some stage, but here I’m just going to set down what was involved in getting to and from there. This is more for me than for you - it is quite tedious, so personally I recommend you skip it. I just wanted to remind myself really, before it gets lost in the rakı haze. See, I keep whinging on about how I could be getting more out this time abroad in terms of personality change/growth (maaaaan), but here at least is a little something I've learnt.

I remember my first trip away with S, which at the time I branded The Isle of Wight Bus Debacle, and pretty much vowed it would never be repeated again. Because you see we didn’t book coach tickets in advance, or have our schedule planned down to the minute on the local bus services, and in general winged it. Which I found intolerable and stressed me out no end...I am actually of the opinion this is probably a valid way of feeling in the UK, with its insane last minute ticket charges and generally overstretched transport system. But whilst a valid feeling, it's not one that makes for particularly enjoyable weekends away.

However in Turkey it is a bit different. Here it really doesn't pay to sort things out in advance, here you really can wing it, and as I maybe mentioned before, here you can ask people for help without them looking at you like you'd asked for a lightly grilled stoat. (RIP, Douglas Adams.) And so after many Turkey travel experiences of this ilk, where we've made not enough of a plan for my liking and yet still reached our destination without anyone's limbs falling off or anything I have, most definitely, mellowed.

And I reckon this trip's travel arrangements, and my mostly* good humoured acquiesence to it, represents something of a graduation from this Turkish/S School of Enforced Flexibility.

* Mostly. There may have been one leeeettle incident of quivering spitting rage ;-)

Anyway, the tedious details are something like this.

Weds – leave work early, off home to pack bag on assumption we are going to Greek city of some sort. Get back to Istanbul, am informed of island plan by beaming S who is with fishing rod, but sans tickets. Pop off to train station, what do you know there are cancellations on the overnight sleeper train going our way which leaves in a couple of hours, just enough time for dinner. A perfect start.

Weds night , Thursday morning – sleeper train to Greece, arrive at coast town 5 in the morning, mooch about til the ferry ticket place opens at 9, happily there are tickets and a ferry in the morning, mooch about til ferry leaves at 11.

Thursday day – arrive to Samothraki, try to hire car, fail (no credit card), mini-sulk then discover the joy that is island hitchhiking. There are only a handful of roads there anyway, and not-unconnectedly about a 1 in 3 chance of getting a lift exactly where you want to go if you can get someone to stop for you. So we manage to do a hatfull of sights on the first afternoon just by flagging down the poor locals.

Friday, Saturday – more of the same, getting lifts around and waving frantically at the knackered municipality bus whenever it deigns to put in an appearance. I try to hire a pushbike from one of the scooter hire places, fail, then talk to someone in a shop who talks to someone in a bar who talks to his mate who wanders off to get his own bike and hires that to me. Aces.

Sunday – Off back home. Which is to say:

- 10.30am leave hotel, fail to get an easy lift for the first time as it is evidently religion o-clock; everyone is off to church in their Sunday finery and spurning the chance to do their good deed for the day by rescuing two helpless holiday makers from the pissing rain. Eventually are successful, in to the port town, mooch about waiting for the ferry.

- 3pm get into port town on the mainland and spend an hour or so trying to find a way of getting to Istanbul or, at the very least, to the Turkish border. We are informed, wrongly, by a succession of cafe punters (understandably) and paid transportation staff (less so) that there are no trains, no local buses, no intercity buses, no nuffink; and whilst they could call a mate of theirs for a taxi to take us to the border , it would set us back 40 Euro. I’m about ready to hop in but S, being more experienced in the ways of mediterranean misinformation than I am, asserts that there must be *something* else, so off we wander in search of it.

- 5pm are successful and find a local bus service going to a border town, for a mere 5 Euro – score.

- 5.30pm bartering for a taxi from border town to actual border. I do my best ‘we could always thumb a lift’ mime and S uses her smatterings of greek, and a not-entirely-faked display of disinterest and disdain, to secure a 2 Euro – count it! – discount.

- 6pm border run taxi from Greek side of border to Turkish side – you can’t walk and normal taxis don’t go through, but our 1st taxi guy spots one of the special ones on the way, overtakes and we flag him down to take us through.

- 6.30 – 7 on the other side of the border, a succession of debates with tour coaches and Ali Bloggs Public, trying to get someone to take us to the next town along. Fail, about to give up and call another taxi, when S manages to get us an offer of a lift from the local police. They were finishing their shift and on their way back home anyway, so said we could come with. Slightly surreal half an hour trip with a bunch of nice smiling young Turk police officers, with their non-metaphorical guns in their pockets and non-metaphorically pleased to see us to boot.

- 8 back in something approaching civilisation, being a recognisable turkish town, and so manage to find a proper coach going our way which will get us into Istanbul that same night. Very debateable about whether we will be able to catch the last ferry, but not really anything faster at this point, so again off we go.

- 11.30-something - finally back in Istanbul, but only in out-of-town bus garage thereof. Bloody miles away from anywhere, wrong continent for getting back to Heybeliada, rapidly running out of night. Plump for another taxi rather than the shuttle bus laid on by the coach company, which turns out to be a good call because, through a combination of the ring road being reasonably clear at that time of night, and insanely fast Istanbul cabbie driving, he manages to whip us round the city to our asian ferry port in time for...

- 12.10 a ferry back home to Heybeliada.

So 1 bike, 1 train, 1 bus, 1 coach, 1 police van, 3 cabs, 5 ferries, and innumerable free rides, not a single arrangement made ahead of time, and nonetheless a successful weekend away. And only one major hissy fit on my part. (Oh, go on then, 2.)

The upshot is, I feel I have now learnt Flakey Transport Tolerance; and am feeling smug about it. Forgive me that.