OK, OK – enough already. Stop with the nagging Yes, I’ve been very slack in keeping the blog up to date. For a couple of months now.
Do you want the list of excuses? I can probably come up with 101 excuses for you – like:
- I haven’t had anything interesting to write about (Hmmmm..)
- I’m far too busy having fun (Of course, that’s true!)
- I can’t find WiFi (Not so true. Wifi is everywhere but the quality is often questionable..)
- The dog ate my blog (Believe me?)
- I was kidnapped by terrorists and they wouldn’t give me my computer. (Don’t believe that one either?)
- My procrastination tendencies are in full swing (Getting warmer…)
- I’m lazy (Bingo!)
Do I keep going? It all reality, it’s a combination of the above – except for maybe the dog and the terrorists. Each day just has a different excuse. Anyhow, it’s overdue – and I guess today, I can help most of you delay the start of your Monday morning work by another 10 minutes or so! Grab a coffee and enjoy…
So where have I been?
Well, the first month was pretty much like I wrote in my last post: from Turkey I flew to Budapest(Hungary) where I stayed with some very special friends Peter and Andrea (whom Alan and I met almost a year ago in the Banda Islands of Indonesia). Some people wondered how I would fill in my time in Hungary for so long – but it was incredibly easy. Peter and Andrea kept me busy in Budapest (teaching me to cook Hungarian specialties was particularly fun!) and took me to visit other towns of Hungary, Slovenia and Venice. Plus I did a side trip to Prague.
After Hungary, I flew to England for two weeks for a friend’s wedding. I avoided the usual tourist traps of England and ended up having a very low key, chilled out time in the beautiful countryside areas of Somerset, Bath and Derby.
From England, I flew to France, where I spent a week in a small village in France visiting another friend (who I also met and travelled with in Indonesia). I’ll come back another time and fill you in on those 2 months. I might even get it done this year. But for now, let’s get things more current, and I’ll bring you up to date with where I am now.
So where am I now?
Interestingly, I just re-read my last post (from Cappadocia, Turkey) and this is what I wrote near the end.
“I think it would be fair to say that Cappadocia was one of my favourite places in Turkey. Given the high level of tourism here, that surprised me. I’m an island girl at heart, but I’d happily come back to this magical place.”
And that’s what I did.
It’s so hot, dry and dusty here, especially in August. And it’s so very different to the watery island life that I covet. But there is a feel-good factor about the place and people, and it fascinates me.
It certainly wasn’t my intention to return at the time I left, but plans evolved (as they do) and here I am! When I was here in May, I made ‘friends’ with some of the local travel agents and had mentioned that I might want to settle somewhere (thinking England, Spain or Portugal) for a month or so while either house-sitting or doing a bit of work for accommodation. Next thing I knew, they had a friend/uncle/father who had a hotel who was looking for someone to help out.
The family-run hotel wanted someone with good English to talk to guests about the various activities in Cappadocia, to help with guest check-in and check-outs, reply to emails, and to help re-write their website (not technically, just the English text). How hard can any of that be? I mean talking to other travellers is something that I do every day anyhow – it’s hardly a chore. And the website stuff – well, that would be easy work and something to get the brain cells working again.
So, after a Skype call and a few emails, the deal was sealed. I’d work for a few hours a day (morning and evening, with daytime off), and in return, I’d get free accommodation. I agreed to 3 weeks but would consider up to 6 if we both thought it was working out OK. This was the perfect way to ride out the hugely expensive and overcrowded summer high-season in Europe (and Asia, for that matter).
A snazzy apartment
End the end, the accommodation option that they offered wasn’t really suitable (a small room in staff quarters, shared bathroom, etc. Staying for a month or so, I wanted my own space) so instead, I signed up for a nice apartment on the outskirts of Avanos, just a few kilometres out of the more touristy town of Göreme. For only 210 Turkish Lira per week (NZD$115), I have a near-new, spacious furnished apartment with kitchenette, large bathroom, separate bedroom and balcony, including flat screen TV ,water, power, WiFi and laundry. You can’t complain about that!
Having a kitchenette means I can make my meals if I want, too, so when not eating at the hotel, I’m enjoying either one-pot pastas or salads for dinner and a simple bowl of muesli for breakfast. As much as I enjoy Turkish food, it’s a nice change from eating out all the time.
It’s so bloody hot!
Cappadocia is barren and dusty all year round. But now, in the middle of summer, it’s now hot AND dusty, with temps averaging around 33-34 during the day. For my first few days, it was much hotter with temps hitting 37-40 and with no aircon or fan to cool things down, I wondered if coming here at this time was such a wise idea. How would I survive this heat? Fortunately my apartment is relatively cool, but at the hotel and everyone else, it’s bloody hot. Even the locals are complaining about it.
It’s a dry heat and there is often breeze blowing through (albeit a hot breeze!) which helps – but it also stirs up the dust (it’s like a sandy dust)! I am constantly coated in a fine layer of dust (as is my laptop). I have to wipe down the apartment every other day since I keep the doors and windows open constantly. During the hottest days, I was having a shower 3 times a day – partly to cool down, and partly to remove the dust!
Now, it has settled back down to a more comfortable 28-32 degrees (I never thought I’d say that!), with very pleasant evening temperatures. I’m adapting, as you do.
On my drive from the airport, I noticed quite a few mini-tornadoes blowing dust and bits of scrub around in small funnels around the countryside.. Nothing serious, but interesting to watch. Then the other day, one whipped through the hotel making a right mess of everything. It only lasted a minute, but everything was coated in dust from the rocks. The staff spent an hour sweeping up all the dust and washing everything down.
It took me all of a day to get the hang of handling the bookings, and guest check-in and check-outs at the hotel. That was lucky because my arrival coincided with the end of Ramazan (Ramadan) – and that’s when all the Turkish head away on holiday. It was busy, busy, busy! But I loved the feeling of normality – working in a small reception office doing ‘stuff’ and organising things. That’s what I do best – organise and administer! It took me about 3 hours before I couldn’t help myself any longer before introducing some small changes – like creating email templates for the standard letters, and jazzing up their bookings spreadsheets to make them easier to use. Of course, I had to take a gently, gently approach so as to not offend anyone… !
Designing a website – in Turkish!
The hotel is in the process of having a new booking engine/payment system built for their website. So not only am I re-writing the text on the current site (updating the information, tidying up the English, and researching and writing new information pages) I’m also helping out with the functional design of the reservation booking and payment process.
It’s good to be engaging my brain again. (Deciding what to wear and where to go each day isn’t exactly taxing on the brain cells, I have to admit). The only problem I face is that the meetings with the website developer are in Turkish, as are the new web pages and back-end maintenance areas of the system. At least, that is the case while it’s still under development. Then we’ll convert it to English.
It’s a strange process, but so far, it’s working. Okey (my ‘boss’) and the web designer talk at length in Turkish about functionality and design. I sit and watch, and try to figure out what is going on. Surprisingly, I get the gist of what they are discussing, but every so often, Okey turns around, summarises the conversation and asks for my suggestions.
Trying to set up all the data in the back-end of the system so that I can start testing (somehow testing has slipped into my “job description”!) has been most challenging, especially as I have ended up doing it on my own without Okey’s help. Google Translate is my best friend as I try to interpret what every single piece of data is, every link, every button and every error message. Once I work out what something is, I have to work out how it might be used by the system, work out the appropriate text and info (in English), and use Google Translate to write the Turkish version. Here’s an example of what I’m having to deal with for the back-end setting up of hotel room categories.
It’s challenging but I enjoy it, and I’m learning about the hotel booking process. Those that have worked with me can only imagine how difficult it is for me is to restrain myself to not take over meetings and start redesigning everything. Or writing a detailed functional spec, test plan and project plan! But – when in Turkey, do as the Turkish do. A test plan?! Really – what’s that? We’ll just push through a booking and if works, then we are good to go! Yeah, right.
The more that I’ve gotten into it, the more complexity I’ve uncovered in what they have designed -and the potential for things to be royally screwed up is high if it’s not thoroughly tested. My challenge will be to convince them of the need for this. The long list of issues found after one day will hopefully prove that!
Funnily enough, considering that the work I’m doing is pretty much voluntary, I do really enjoy it. I’m “working” more hours than was planned, although much of that time is spent sitting around drinking tea, learning to speak Turkish words and otherwise killing time talking to people. As an hourly rate (think $0) it sucks, but as far as working lifestyle goes, it’s a no-brainer for me right now.
It’s laid back and relaxed with zero stress. I wake up when I want, put on shorts, T-shirts and jandal/sandals and head in when I’m ready. I don’t have rush hour to contend with (rush hour is dodging the couple of dozen hot-air balloon-related vehicles racing around in the morning). And I’m early enough I can see the last of the hot air balloons in the sky.
I have breakfast and/or lunch at the hotel if I’m so inclined (good Turkish food for staff!), and if I’m there in the evening, we may bring in pide (Turkish pizza) and I’ll enjoy a glass of some excellent Cappadocian red wine. Or if I’ve had enough, I go home for an afternoon snooze during the heat of the day!
Life back in Cappadocia
I’ve really enjoyed being back in Cappadocia. I got such a lovely welcome from various locals who I knew previously or who recognised me when I arrived back. The restaurant owner of my favourite little place in Goreme not only remembered me, but quickly escorted me to my ‘usual’ table!
To be fair, I haven’t done a lot of sight-seeing yet. I’ve been busier with the work that I anticipated, and it’s just too hot to do any hiking during the middle of the day. But I’ve settled into a normal-life routine here which I am enjoying.
Once a week I go to the local market where I can get fresh fruit and vegetables. Virtually everything is 1TL (50 cents) per kilo – whether it be cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, apples, nectarines. (And no, I’m not eating tomatoes yet).
Sometimes in the evenings after sunset, I’ll walk the 1km into Avanos town to the grocery store, to walk along the river, or if I’m not in a cooking mood, to my other favourite restaurant, Akdeniz (non-touristy, non-English speaking) for a Turkish feast that costs about $6.
Avanos (where I am staying) is less-touristy than Goreme (where the hotel is). But it’s a lively town, especially in the evenings. August is the wedding season, and every night there are at least 2-3 weddings in the area. During the day, the wedding plans are announced over the town loudspeaker system. It’s usually a 3-day affair. The process (that I see) starts off with a convoy of 20 cars or so carousing the streets of Avanos before doing the 10+km circuit into Goreme and back, all the while honking on their horns the entire time.
Later in the evening, are the fireworks – followed by the loud Turkish party music at the wedding venue, usually carried from the town to my balcony by the evening winds. Fortunately, it’s mostly all happens in town, so I don’t get the full impact of the noise every night in the apartment. Just enough to make it enjoyable. My new taxi driver friend is getting married at the end of the month and has invited me to the wedding. I’m not sure if I will be here for it or not – but it would be fun to go!
On the night of the ‘supermoon’, I wandered into Avanos with my camera to take some photos. I climbed a hill to watch the sunset then made my way back down for a walk along the river. Expecting a relatively quiet night, I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of families that had gathered along the river for a picnic, creating quite a lively atmosphere.
I had a quick chat with these two guys. After saying hello, the first question they asked was how old I was! That’s a typical early question asked by the Turkish, along with how much money I earn. (It’s a change from the Indonesians who focus on whether or not I’m married and how many kids I have).
Walking back into town, I heard some loud music and commotion, so naturally had to go check it out. There were about 50 people or so standing around waving flags to the beat of the music. The music stopped, and they stopped. The music started again, and once again they waved to the beat of the music. There were a couple of dozen police surrounding the street keeping an eye on things. I assumed that they were celebrating the election results.
I had a late-night dinner at one of the restaurants, sitting at a streetside table, giving me a front-row seat to the nightly entertainment. First were the wedding convoys. Next was another convoy of horn-honking cars with occupants waving election flags out the windows. As my dinner arrived, I had two sets of fireworks going off (wedding celebrations) – just as the call to prayer kicked off at two different mosques. Later, the night air was filled with the sound of Turkish dance music as the wedding parties got underway. It was all go in this quiet little riverside town of Avanos. Thank goodness my apartment is in a quiet area of town!
I have so many other general observations and little tidbits to share, but think I will save it for another post. Maybe some of it is best for once I leave the area! Besides this is already long enough.
Happy Travel Anniversary to me!
I can’t believe that is has now been just over a year since I first left NZ (excluding my brief return visit home in January). I don’t really think I ever believed that I would be able to stay away for so long – and I’ve surprised myself and how easy it has been to adapt to a life on the road. Admittedly, I have kept things fairly slow moving, and am trying not to race around ticking off all the ‘must see’ things to do everywhere I go. The key factor for me has been to intersperse periods of being a busy sight-seeing tourist with just taking a bit of time out to enjoy an area, spend time with friends or locals that I meet along the way and try to normalise my life a bit.
When am I coming home? I’m not sure yet. October is a target… but…well…. we’ll see!
On a personal note to my parents: good luck with the house move. Don’t forget to tell me your forwarding address so I know where to find you when I return. You can run, but you can’t hide!
I actually haven’t used my camera much since I’ve been back in Cappadocia. Aside from a day trip I did in the ancient old cave castle town of Çavuşin (cha-vu-shin), the pickings are slim!