Day 42 – Austria

My traveling is full speed ahead right now. Today was spent entirely in the capital of and the largest city in Austria: Vienna (or in German: Wien). Today is a holiday so there was a noted absence of cars on the roads. I basically walked around the city and there are a lot of grand buildings and parks. Later in the afternoon it started raining, so the rest of the day is catching up on some business. I have wireless for the first time in a few days. Just staying at this hostel is pretty nice since they have lots of couches and a garden. There’s a piano and a guitar here and people are playing them.

I’ve created a map of my path through Europe. There’s a break in the line where I traveled by air. If you look on the map, the next stop is Budapest, Hungary. I’m planning on taking a train there tomorrow. So my pace is almost one country per day right now, at least for the small ones.

Day 41 – Switzerland

After a pretty good sleep, I started the day with a good breakfast buffet. Then I headed to the train station again. This town of Interlaken has a lot of nice traditional wood homes everywhere, farms, wood shops, and I think it is just what a lot of people are looking for. I took another scenic train to Lucerne. Going through the valley you can see waterfalls on the cliffs and just nonstop awe inspiring sights.

I walked around Lucerne for an hour. One thing of note, they have a small turbine on the river going through the city generating electricity. Then back on the train to Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland. I went to the Rietberg Museum, a park, then with my last Swiss Francs (CHF) money I bought some food at the supermarket and dinner at a restaurant. It seemed like I didn’t really have too much time to see the city because I had to catch another train at 10:40PM.

The train from Zurich, Switzerland to Vienna, Austria was pretty nice. It was a six person compartment, but there happened to be only me and one other person in it. There were three seats facing another three seats and I was able to lie down and get some sleep during the 9.5 hour trip.

Day 40 – Switzerland

I think it is going to be a long day.

At 00:15, I was picked up by the small shuttle bus, which squeezed one more person inside than the number of seats. We got to the airport fairly quickly since the driver had a heavy foot. We also flew through two toll booths and I heard alarms sound as we did (apparently didn’t pay).

The flight out from Sabiha Gökçen Airport was with easyJet, a budget airline. Here in Turkey you go through security before you check in. I took three bottles of water through security since liquids don’t seem to be an issue in this country. While standing in the check in line, I heard this crash and a child crying. One of the check-in counters next to me collapsed and fell down onto a boy. A bunch of people ran over and lifted the counter off. I don’t think the boy was hurt too bad because he was moving and crying. But I guess business as usual in Turkey.

If that’s not enough excitement, in line a man tries to talk to me but he doesn’t know English. He’s trying to talk about his bag, he unzips it and there are green leaves inside. But when I hand over my passport to get my ticket, the man puts his bag on the scale as if it was mine and talks to the woman attending to me in Turkish. She asks me, “Did you prepare this luggage yourself?” I say, “That’s not mine, it’s his.” She says, “That’s not my concern.” After asking me a few times, I’m finally able to get the man to take his bag away so I can get mine on the scale. I was handed my ticket and then the man disappeared.

Then they couldn’t make boarding the airplane straight forward. First of all you have to go through security a second time. The TV screens said for my flight to “Wait in lobby,” but everyone else already boarded the plane. A man called out the city for my flight and I stepped outside and he pointed and said “that plane.” There are no gates, but you have to go outside to get to any planes. I was surprised to see everyone already boarded and I was one of the last passengers to get on. I think all of this is why I want to take advantage of the rail system in Europe.

After all that, I did make it to Switzerland at 5:30AM (and a time zone change again 6+). I probably got 1-2 hours of sleep. After catching a bus to downtown Basel, I took another train to the Goetheanum. It is in a more residential area and was really nice in the morning. There’s the main building, the Goetheanum, and around it a bunch of strangely designed houses, and nice gardens and all.

Afterwards, I headed back to downtown Basel for a quick look around. Then I got on a train to Bern (capital of Switzerland). Got off the train and looked around for about 30 minutes. Back on the train to Interlaken. A little cooler here since the city is up in the mountains. After arriving, I walked over a mile to a hostel and they said there are beds available. No wonder there are some free, the place is in the middle of nowhere. I stayed the rest of the day in Interlaken. You can see some of the highest mountains in Europe in the distance, there is lake/river right here and some of the best scenery yet.

Day 39 – Turkey

Last day in Istanbul. Today I visited Hagia Sophia, which is supposed to be the #1 most visited place in the country. Apparently I need to watch the James Bond film, From Russia with Love, because it was shot in and around all these places I’ve been going to the last couple days. I’ve been catching up on some miscellaneous things, like paying to get my laundry done properly for once. Also trying to plan out where I’ll be each day for the next month.

My next step is a shuttle bus to the airport at 12:20AM and then a flight at 3:25AM arriving in Basel, Switzerland at 5:30AM. Tomorrow I plan on taking some trains around Switzerland, but I’m not sure where I’ll end up yet. Due to my luck, it is a holiday weekend in the country and that means all the dorm rooms are full and everyone has left their homes leaving no couches to sleep on. And it gets cold at night in that country, so it might be an adventure to see how I’ll survive the next night or two.

Day 38 – Turkey

Still in Istanbul and today I visited the Blue Mosque. I think that’s the first time I’ve been inside a Mosque. There are just four huge columns inside holding up all the domes. I noticed the entire building is lined up with Mecca. Then I went underground to Basilica Cistern, which is come kind of underground water reservoir, built 1500 years old. It was a challenge to take photos in the near darkness though! I also walked through the Grand Bazaar which was pretty crazy with thousands of small shops.

I found a store that sells iPods, but they were really overpriced (almost double their value). They seem to be pretty rare here. However, there are some counterfeit audio players with Sony and iPod labels on them. You can tell they aren’t something Sony or Apple would make, but they look cheaply made (LCD doesn’t line up, slow boot time, bad software). But good price, $42 or so for these “MP4 Players” but I’m not sure I want one of those. Maybe Istanbul isn’t really known for the best place to buy electronics.

Misc: I’m sleeping in a room with 12 other people, I think that’s a record for this trip so far. Last night everyone was either very quiet or I was in comatose as a result of the previous night. An observation, stray cats are everywhere around this city and in Turkey. A few stray dogs too (usually sleeping).

Day 37 – Turkey

It was my first long distance bus last night. The bus from Selcuk to Istanbul was crowded and I think every seat was full. Unfortunately, I don’t think I got any sleep. There were no pillows and the guy next to me kept elbowing me. As for the free shuttle bus (which was the big concern at the bus station yesterday), someone pointed me to one, but the driver didn’t want to take me all the way to my destination. I had to walk nearly an hour the rest of the way. Anyway, I made it to one of the highest populated cities in Europe and I’ll be here for two nights. I’m going to keep working on planning out the next month or so of my trip too.

Day 36 – Turkey

Today it rained and I didn’t do too much except some travel planning. I had another good breakfast on the terrace today and surprised for the second day in a row I was the only one up there eating. I guess I found a smaller, quieter town to stay in. They said it isn’t the high season yet here (July-Aug). I was trying to figure out what to do next, go to Cappadocia (in the middle of the country) or Istanbul. Since I didn’t have too much time here, I decided to keep things simple and go directly to Istanbul. Then I had another choice, how to get there. I can take trains and ferries, or a bus. I’m going to do the simple thing again and take a direct 10 hour night bus and then get into the city early in the morning with daylight and plenty of time to find a place to stay.

It was an experience getting the bus ticket at the station though. I walked there with the name of a company the hotel staff told me about, but I ended up talking to some other companies (or they started talking to me) doing the same route. They were almost fighting over me and then saying the hotel was referring me to a specific company because they are getting a commission (that’s probably so). I ended up buying from the guy who gave me some directions and his business card the day I arrived. It is just confusing and you don’t know who to trust. The hotel said to make sure only to buy from a certain company, the others lie about a free shuttle service to different parts of the city. And then the other bus companies saying similar things and say they hate liars. I don’t know who to trust or anything, but we’ll see how it works out. It was kind of funny actually seeing these people getting mad.

Even if the hotel is trying to get commission every referral they make, they just seem too nice. They invited me to eat a home cooked lunch with a few of the staff. Later in the evening they gave me some cherries to eat. They even let me check out late since I have a night bus. It is a small place and they treat you as friends or family here.

For dinner I went back to the Turkish Pizza place to have some more of that. The guy cooking the pizzas wasn’t too busy and he had a Turkish-English phrasebook that he practiced with me for a while. Oh, another good thing they have in Turkey: Apple Tea (Elma Çay).

Day 35 – Turkey

I started the day with a nice breakfast at the hotel on the roof/terrace. They actually serve you plates of prepared food (bread, fruit, omelet) which is different from any other place I’ve stayed. Next was the main reason for coming here: the ancient Greek and Roman city of Ephesus. The hotel staff said they had free transportation there, so I said yes.

One of the hotel staff walks me down the street to a carpet shop and says I’ll get picked up here in five minutes. Meanwhile, the shop owner tries to talk me into buying an oriental rug. I was expecting some kind of shuttle bus to pick me up but instead they point me to this guy on a really small motorcycle. I had to sit on the back of that, no helmets, holding my camera in one hand. Fortunately, I was dropped off safely in front of the gate, conveniently for another shop owner to persistently offer me things to purchase. Finally, I was allowed into the city of Ephesus after a $7.50 entrance fee.

Ephesus is maybe the most impressive ancient Greek or Roman city around. It was the capital of Asia Minor, but unlike other cities (Rome, Athens), it wasn’t build over with a modern layer. I spent a few hours there walking down the streets and seeing interesting things like ancient piping systems. Afterwards, I continued on to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, surprisingly just a tiny sign and road off the main highway here. Called the Temple of Artemis, there isn’t really anything left but a swamp and a rebuilt column. However there was a very persistent man there trying to sell me a book.

The Turkish people seem very nice and helpful so far. Sometimes too nice when they really want you to buy something though. Another thing about Turkey, it is a Muslim country. You wouldn’t really notice it at first, until you are woken up in the morning by the Islamic call to prayer on the city loudspeakers. The rest of Europe is cute, but can seem boring though. A place like Turkey can be more challenging to travel in, but perhaps more interesting and rewarding.

Day 34 – Greece to Turkey

Things didn’t go to a good start when I went to find the ferry in Athens. I went to the port to look for a ticket and couldn’t find anything for a while. It started pouring rain while this happened. I finally got a ticket and then I had to find the ferry. It is a huge port; I boarded a bus that went around the port but I still didn’t see the ferry since the bus only covered half the area. Walking around to the opposite end I finally got on board with soaking pants and feet (poncho covered the rest).

The ferry was much different from the cruise ship type I took last time. This one looked more like a large airplane inside with rows of seats. Luckily, I found a power outlet near some seats for my computer. Left at 8PM and after a few hours a lot of people left the ship to go to one of the other Greek islands, giving me some space to sleep. I was able to sleep across two seats where an armrest was removed.

I arrived at 8AM at the island of Samos, Greece. I spent the day relaxing near the beaches and water. Since I was in Greece I decided to eat a Greek salad for lunch. I guess it was authentic because there was no lettuce in it, but mostly tomatoes. One annoying thing about the Mediterranean countries is most stores and businesses close between 1PM-4PM, during the hottest part of the day. Trying to find a super market to buy a snack for later can be tough in the afternoon, for example.

At 4:30PM I boarded a ferry to Kusadasi, Turkey. Now this is where it started getting scary because I’m leaving the European Union, I have to get a visa, new currency, and find my way to the hotel before sundown without any guidebooks or maps.

At 6:30PM I got off the ferry; the first person I had to go through asked for my ticket and a 10 Euro port fee. Next I went to another person to get a visa, so I handed over my passport and a $20 bill and with no questions asked I got my visa. Next was passport control where they typed my name into the computer and let me into the country, again no questions asked.

Next, I had the name of the city (Selçuk) and hotel (Urkmez) and I had to get there from the port city of Kusadasi. Getting sent out onto the street some helpful people ask where I’m going and give me some vague directions for a 10 minute walk to the minibus (or dolmuÅŸ) station. First I made a quick stop and changed some Euros into Turkish Lira. Amazingly I did make it to the minibuses and I only had to have one other person point me in the right direction. I was expecting a big building or a huge parking lot with lots of busses, but it was just a street corner with some people waiting there and these small buses with 12-15 seats pulling up real quick and driving away. There was one guy with a cowboy hat and a radio who seemed to be running things. I managed to get on the bus to Selçuk for 3 YTL ($2.28) and about 20-30 minutes later arrived in the town.

I was closer now, but I still had to find my hotel. In all the countries so far, I’ve had road maps on my computer, but not the case here. Some more helpful people gave me some directions and I walked again. They said it is next to the post office, but too bad I have no idea how a Turkish post office looks. Asking a couple more people I was able to find the hotel while it was starting to get dark.

I got some food recommendations from the hotel staff and ending up having a Turkish Pizza for dinner (wood burning oven, long oval shaped pizza cut in small pieces). Not quite enough I went and had some meatballs across the street. Feeling full I went to bed.

Day 33 – Athens

By the way, I changed time zones again. I’m now 7 hours ahead of Eastern time. It rained overnight and even more rain today, so I was able to try my poncho for the first time. I got up early and walked to the National Archeological Museum of Athens. I think the highlight there was seeing pieces and a reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism close up. Then I walked to the Acropolis, which most famously includes the Parthenon. I also walked around some of the other archeological sites, such as the Agora.

Next, I’m planning on taking a ferry to the Greek island of Samos overnight. Continuing with another ferry to Turkey tomorrow. Should be interesting!