Turkey Diaries Day 5 and 6

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Apologies for the silence. First, there was no time in Istanbul. Then, I was glued to a fantastic book. And now, I am trying to plod through Boys over Flowers one episode at a time.

(“Plod” because it makes Ekta Kapoor series look like an art movie and at 1 hour, each episode is one hour long with lots and lots of unnecessary flashbacks and songs).

This part of the itinerary was most confusing for me. To go or not to go to Pamukkale? If yes, to visit Ephesus or not. To stay at Izmir or Selcuk or Ephesus or Denizli? To take the flight to Denizli or Izmir? Or an overnight bus from Cappadocia? To stop for a day at Istanbul or continue directly to Pamukkale?

Finally, I decided to skip Ephesus and on a friend’s recommendation only add Pamukkale to the itinerary. We took a flight from Neveshir (near Cappadoccia) to Izmir with a change of planes at Istanbul. From Izmir airport, we took a bus to the bus stand and then a 4 hours journey to Denizli on the bus. Denizli is 20 mins from Pamukkale. It was a 12 hours journey and we spent a whole day in transit. I wasn’t confident about the overnight buses from Cappadoccia though they would have cost far, far lesser.

Pamukkale is known for it’s thermal springs. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a small mountain with limestone and flowing water giving it a surreal quality. There are pools of water shaped like an infinity pool. When you reach the site, you have to take off your footwear and walk barefeet. When you reach the top, there are ruins of the ancient Roman city Hierapolis.

We spent a few hours at Pamukkale and then headed back to Denizli. While Pamukkale is amazing and a destination like no other, it wasn’t worth one day’s journey and the amount we spent on travelling to and fro. Maybe including Ephesus would have made more sense.

The next day we took a flight back to Istanbul in the morning. And again, the hotel tried to charge a bomb for the cab to the airport. Finally, we googled online and found a shuttle which charges 15% of what the cabbie was demanding. The hotel staff feigned ignorance about the shuttle service when we enquired.

Oh, well.

Coming up – the last leg of the trip in Istanbul.


Turkey Diaries day 3 and 4

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Some destinations are overhyped and overpriced. Cappadocia is not that destination. The main attraction in this area is the hot air balloon ride and as gimmicky as it sounds, the ride was fabulous. The lowest price for a ride is 150 Euros, if you pay in cash. And one ride has 20 people. Cappadocia has the lowest prices for hot air balloon rides in the world and least number of cancellations due to weather conditions. Large areas of flat plains make it easier to land the balloon and the views of the fairy chimneys are very unique.
Due to volcanic eruptions, erosion and extreme weather conditions over centuries, Cappadocia has chimneys, valleys, rocks with honey comb formations and a topography which is unlike anywhere else.

We planned a 2 days stay at Cappadocia. The main town is Goreme but we stayed at Cavusin. It doesn’t matter where you stay because all tours pick up and drop off tourists at the hotel. But staying in Goreme would be most convenient because it has many good restaurants and places to hang out.
We booked our balloon ride for day 1 early morning and took a flight from Istanbul previous evening. We stayed at Jacob’s cave suites which is one of the many hotels with a cave-like room. Though it is 3 km from Goreme, the hotel would call a cab whenever we wanted to go to Goreme and there was a great restaurant at walking distance. Cauvsin is mostly deserted and many houses in the town are abandoned. It was eerie how silent the area is. It took a while to get used to.
We were picked up by Voyager Balloons staff at 5.30 am from the hotel. They took us to their office where we had breakfast and then onward to the site of take off. Watching balloons get filled with gas and take off is an amazing experience itself and watching the sunrise in the clouds is once-in-a-lifetime experience. After 60 mins in the clouds, we landed to champagne and a toast.
Everything else in Cappadocia is a filler after the balloon ride. You can go on one of the tours or hike by yourself in the valleys or just chill in the hotel. After the ride, we headed to Goreme and visited the Open Air Museum but it was a waste of time and money. The museum has 14 churches which were of no interest to me and entry cost a bomb. I will rant separately about the Chinese tourists whose only interest was clicking Instagram worthy pictures to show off.
On day 2, we woke up early to see the balloons crossing our hotel. It is better to stay in Cappadocia for 2 days because if your ride gets cancelled on the first day due to weather conditions, you can reschedule it for the 2nd day. Also, watching the balloons from below is an exciting activity too. There are 2 tours in Cappadocia- red tour and green tour. Each of them roughly costs 30 Euro which is quite steep but entry charges are a bomb and many places are at long distances. If we had tried visiting all these sites ourselves, it would have cost much more. So, either skip sightseeing or join a tour. We visited the underground city, pigeon valley, Ihlara valley and Nar lake.
2 days are more than sufficient in Cappadocia but it is a destination that should be visited in Turkey. You could add a 3rd day if you are interested in hikes through the valleys. There are options of renting a car or scooter, if you have an international driving license. Or renting a bicycle, mountain bikes or ATV bikes to explore the areas. But please avoid the peak periods when Chinese tourists throng this destination.

I am unable to post pics because wordpress is quite a bitch. Maybe I will repost with pics on Medium once am back. Until then, head to my Instagram for pics.

 


Turkey Diaries day 1 and 2

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An itinerary to Turkey generally has Istanbul and Cappadocia. For longer trips, Antalya, Ankara, Euphesus and Pamukkale can be included. Travelling between these cities isn’t very convenient so it is best to use Istanbul as a transit point.
This is the first time we aren’t staying in an airbnb and have booked hotels. Mainly, because I couldn’t find anything good in Istanbul and Cappadocia only has tourists. I prefer airbnb over hotels because you get a glimpse in the life of a resident, local recommendations and nobody is trying to up sell.
One major issue in Turkey is that some places charge in Euros and others in Turkish Lira. 1 TL is equivalent to Rs 12 so wherever we are paying in Lira, it is most affordable. Euro is the bitch. In most cases, there is a cheaper option to payment in Euro. Example, when we inquired from the hotel about a pickup from the airport they quoted 40 Euros (Rs 3600) but we managed to book an Uber for 60 TL (Rs 720). Or when they recommended a Bosphorus cruise for 40 Euros per person with night show and dinner but we managed to take a cruise for 15 TL per person without the added frills.
Though in some cases there is no option. We paid for the airport pickup in Cappadocia, hot air balloon ride and sightseeing tour in Euros.
Istanbul’s weather is perfect right now. There is a slight chill in the air with a drizzle few times in the day. Mixed with the smells from the carts roasting kestane (chestnuts) and corn and cigarettes smoke, it is the perfect combination. As much as I hate smokers, I love the smell of cigarettes in the winter. It is the only time in the year I wish I was an occasional smoker.
The plan for day 1 was to explore the neighbourhood of Sultanahmet where we stayed. We had a great lunch at a place recommended by Tripadvisor, walked down the numerous lanes and took in the sights and sounds of the Bosphorus. Though the plan was to walk along the water to the European side of the city, we walked onto a boat for a cruise. It was simply amazing. There were seagulls, castles and cafes along the banks, a dolphin splashing around, sunset and the most beautiful colours of the sky.
The next day we explored Spice Bazaar. This covered market has shops selling Turkish delight, baklava, dry fruits, jewellery, spices, lamps etc. The prices are lower outside so this is a good market only for window shopping. Thereafter we headed to the airport for our flight to Neveshir for the trip to Cappadocia.
This time the hotel was kind enough to help us with a cab which charges TL instead of Euros.


Turkey diaries

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3 years back we had taken a Turkish Airlines flight from India to Rome with a change of planes at Istanbul. On the flight they served us a Turkish sweet. I loved it so much we decided our next international trip would be to Turkey. As things panned out, there were bomb blasts in Turkey and it has been in political and economic turmoil ever since.
There is a conservative government at the centre and the number of Western tourists has declined sharply. Even Indians use it as a transit point while travelling to Greece. Travelling for a vacation to Turkey is an anomaly. And I did try building an itinerary which combined Turkey and Greece but 10 days aren’t enough for both. We prefer to explore one country at a time. The trip must have the perfect combination of touristy excursions, enough time to use public transport and getting lost while walking down numerous lanes.
This was a very last minute planned trip even though the destination was decided months back. A month back I suggested we approach a travel agent who can make our bookings. I was lost, confused and procrastinating. But one lonely Friday night, I forced myself to get it done. Viola, the itinerary and bookings were completed in a week. KC’s contribution was making me run around till the last week for the Visa.

So glad my Gemini sign has a Taurus descendant. How would we get anything done otherwise.
As always, a daily blog on the trip will be published so please stick around.


The fault in my genes

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My parents came over for the weekend for the first time in 10+ years. My objective for their trip was for KC to understand the source of my weirdness. I can now shrug and say “The fault in my genes”. I am sure he is glad am a toned down version of their quirkiness.

Like,

  • I realised WA groups are a big part of the lives of senior citizens. My parents are part of many, many groups and receive forwards all day. They read each forward and pass it forward. They may even call someone to laugh over some forward. That is how they kill time when alone at home. It is a good replacement for kids who have moved out and don’t have time to even speak to them everyday.
  • They had to leave for the airport at 5.30 am but dad was already dressed by 5 am. Then he nagged me about calling the Uber guy and reaching on time. I kept my fingers crossed hoping the driver wouldn’t ditch. Do you know what is worse than a spouse who nags you at 5.30 am? Parents who nag at 5.30 am. Way, way worse.
  • On Sunday I took them for breakfast to IHOP. They love IHOP in New York, where my sister lives, and were very excited about trying out the Gurgaon outlet. The plan was to have breakfast at 8 am so I woke up at 7 am, brushed my teeth, changed into comfortable clothes and headed for the door. Dad was horrified that I was leaving the house without a bath. What kind of a person does that!!!
  • Indian mothers have a special affinity to washed clothes. I got tips on drying clothes correctly. My MIL is more passive aggressive. She changes the drying position of every clothing item on the rack once I leave home.
  • Mom also wanted to re-arrange the entire kitchen and keep things in their proper place. I made sure they spent all day outdoors and were too tired once back for such sheninangans.
  • My dad, brother and I are the introverts of the family while my mother and sister are the extroverts. If you think the 3:2 ratio works, you are an extrovert because you have no idea how difficult life as an introvert is.

All in all, like a friend said to me… small things give a fresh start.

And yet, does it matter if you get what you wanted when you stopped wanting it and could live without it?

What is the point of dreams getting fulfilled when they stopped meaning anything?

I only have questions, never the answers.


Trapped

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KC bid me goodbye at 6 am for his impromptu FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) trip to Mumbai for Ganesh Chaturthi. I lazed around in bed till 6.45 am when the househelp rang the doorbell. Rolled around in the empty bed some more till the cook arrived at 8.10 am.

“To go or not to go for a bath?”. The cook is fairly new so I didn’t want to leave the house all to herwhile in the bath. I waited for her to leave and rushed to the bathroom. The door clanged shut before I could think twice about it. After 15 mins, feeling squeaky clean and smelling fresh with my white bath towel draped around me, I tried to open the bathroom door. But it wouldn’t budge. The door handle had been giving trouble for the last few days and we had started leaving the door slightly ajar or pushing the door open from the outside. Getting it repaired was on the weekend To Do list.

“Fuck my life”. Of course, this had to happen. I mean, OF COURSE. I could have gone for bath when the cook was around and she could have pushed the door open. But, noooooooooo. And it had to happen on the day KC wasn’t around. And of course, his trip was very last minute. The entire universe had conspired for this moment. They never do that when am stressed at work and need a way out.

I contemplated my options. 15 mins were spent trying to pull open the handle till it came off in my hands. Well done, muscles. This is why we hit the gym. To break stuff which locks us in further. I pulled on my night shirt and decided to call for help. As a woman living in Haryana, getting rescued in a towel by a bunch of strange men in an empty house can only go one way. I noticed the small window in the bathroom and was relieved to note that it faced outdoors. The stream of fresh air helped me wave off the mild claustrophobia.

There were two options – climb down 13 floors from the window or scream for help. The former was my back up plan (if a lean Rajkummar Rao could do it in Trapped, so can I) and I screamed with all my might for the guard. It was past 9 am, the window overlooked the bathrooms of all the other apartments and they were all sealed shut. Who is at home after 9 am in Gurgaon? Probably, nobody. And my voice wouldn’t reach any guard on the ground floor. 10 mins later, the angel who lives below me ducked her head out and asked what happened. I quickly explained the situation and she called the control room for help. 10 mins later, someone rang the doorbell. “What the fuck? They need to break open the front door to rescue me”. After 10 mins of more silence, I screamed for the neighbour and explained that I was trapped in the bathroom and the front door needs to be broken.

15 mins later, there were sounds of people outside the front door. I sighed in relief and thanked the stars for not latching the outside grill door. Else, they would have to break open that door, then the wooden door and then rescue me. Thank God for small mercies.

20 mins later I was staring at the faces of 4 mildly amused men for who this would be the most entertaining tale of their lives.

Epilogue:

The guards and the complex carpenter quickly located a carpenter who could replace the front door lock and the bathroom door handle. And I took half day off from work to ensure this is done immediately. Also, thanked the neighbour below me profusely for all the help.

In the meantime, the control room had called KC for permission to break open the door and he had requested his friend to rush home for help.

KC is well known among the building guards for losing his keys frequently and calling the keymaker in the middle of the night. I had asked him to join the keymaker’s loyalty program for discounts. But this incident makes up for all his carelessness and we are now quite famous among all the guards. Well, we may have to increase our Diwali money budget for them this year. But of course, I don’t know any of their names. Because as a privileged, well earning member of society, I think money makes up for my snootiness and pretension.

 


Neighbourhood haunts

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On a relaxed evening I walked into the bookshop. There was no husband waiting at home, the cook was given the evening off, no gym to rush to, no series on Netflix left to finish.

I wasn’t there to discover new books but rather to pick up the ones on my long list. The second part of Maya Angelou’s memoir wasn’t available and the staff offered to order it by tomorrow. “That’s ok. I will read it on my kindle”; I said. But out of guilt picked up the 3rd book in the series. I am always torn between books and ebooks and keep switching between both. At any given time, am reading different books on both. Gemini, you see. Need double (and more) of everything.

I circled every aisle twice so any book screaming out to me wouldn’t get missed. Spotted a cute guy in my aisle and acknowledged his presence. In the next aisle, a woman almost collided against me. We were both moving away from the shelves and twisting in all positions to spot books in the farthest corners. “Why do people exist?”; I thought. But then she laughed and I gave her the “all is forgotten” shrug and smile.

I asked the staff for “The Brave new world” and was delighted with how quickly they located the book.

In the magazines aisle, all the health and fitness magazines had men on their covers. Why hadn’t I noticed the sexism before? Oh, look, cooking magazines for the women. No wonder print is dying.

An old man approached me with “The brave new world revisited” in his hands. “You should read this as well if you’ve picked up The Brave new world. The original was published in 1930s but this one was published in 1950s”

“Do you work here?”

“No. I love books and my house is filled with them. I was a patron of this store in Khan market when I lived in Delhi and now I frequent the Gurgaon store”.

“Thank you. I will buy the book”.

At the counter, the staff was dragging the billing because they were hoping I would pick up a book from the cash counter. Bloody buggers were right.

“Mam, should we start billing?”

“Please. Else there will be no money left to pay for essentials this month”

“Mam, you should check out these two books. They are brilliant. You will love them”

Here is a secret about me. I can’t say “No”. I will evade, ignore, lie or say ‘Yes’ and ditch. Because a ‘No’ means ‘No’ and a door once closed should never be opened again.

“Ok. I will buy one of those books. Now please finish my billing”.


Travel buddies

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Why do people travel?

  1. To explore a new destination or revisit an old one

  2. To get away from everyone and everything

  3. To pursue hobbies or adventure activities

  4. To spend more time with people they care about

Except for the last one, none of the above reasons require company. Instead, point 2 requires that you categorically travel without people.

I only travel for 1, 2 and 3. The best outcome of marriage has been having the perfect travel partner. KC and I had taken a trip to Matheran within the first month of dating. Through subsequent trips together, we have developed a certain comfort zone. Taking regular trips is a priority for both of us. He has never backed out of a trip because of work (ugh). Sure, there are places he does not want to visit (Bhutan, treks and Kaziranga national park (????)) and likes completely relaxed vacations while I like to explore everything there is to see. All our fights on vacations surround this. Over the years, we have found a balance and it works 80% of the time.

My rules for vacations (for myself):

  1. 75% of relaxation time will be spent reading

  2. Other 25% will be spent sleeping

  3. Morning runs are mandatory

  4. The destination will be explored to the fullest. None of the bullshit of spending all day in the resort and not even exploring the city

  5. Shopping isn’t a priority. It never is.

  6. Conversations will be kept to bare minimum

  7. Drugs and liqour aren’t part of my vacations

That’s it. I am quite chill that way. #notreally

The only reason I would look for someone else to travel with is if I was trying to spend more time with them. But the idea of spending 24/7 with another person who wants to talk sounds exhausting.

A vacation is about the destination or about getting away from everyone and everything.


What is love?

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Her – Do you love him?

Me- Do you love your friends?

Her- It is not the same thing.

Me- But it is. It is a relationship but we want to put it on a pedestal. Do we question ourselves everyday if we love our friends? We conclude we love them and continue to do so till a conflict arises or we drift apart. And even then the love lingers. A marriage is the same. I know how to recognize and define care, comfort, lust, friendship, trust but love? I have no idea what love feels like. Love goes from meaning everything to meaning nothing.


Personal Training – yay or nay

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When I started working out at a neighbourhood gym in 2013, the trainer would make me lift 2 kgs dumbells and work my “core” with sit ups. I discovered the Nerd Fitness blog, read all the posts and told my trainer I wouldn’t touch 2 kgs weights again. The weights kept going up and once he taught me everything he could, I switched to Fitness First. What I love about the Gurgaon branch is that none of the trainers have tried to sell their personal training to me. Instead, most of them have been very kind with their time and advice. From helping me with training plans to shooting videos of workouts before I moved to Mumbai, everything learned was for free.

Few months back, a new trainer approached me for personal training and though I was polite to him and took his number, inwardly I was annoyed.

Here is why personal training seems like a waste of money:

  • Most trainers are not well qualified. I have come across so many of them who are wrong about half of what they teach
  • Don’t need a trainer to help me get to the gym and get a workout in. I refuse to pay someone because my will power sucks
  • Don’t see the point of spending money on someone to count my reps and put the dumbbells back in their place
  • Personal trainers don’t teach clients how to workout on their own instead the objective is make them dependent
  • Am not so lonely that I need someone for small talk at the gym. Also, hate small talk at the gym. And everywhere else.
  • Trainers don’t customise their plans basis the client’s objectives. They have fixed mindsets and don’t necessarily work on the person’s weaknesses.
  • A huge part of fitness is nutrition which a trainer may or may not influence. All the time in the gym is a waste if nutrition isn’t corrected.

Let me call this trainer X. He has been observing me and my workouts. Sometimes he will ask what exercises am doing and why. Or he will correct my form. Today, he criticised my form and lack of effort. He gave me tips on the correct form for a workout and how I should focus on what my body is doing instead of the mind. He is right. I haven’t been listening to my muscles and that’s why there is no soreness. I have been drifting through the gym because my current goals aren’t very ambitious. I can take small steps to meet them and that is all the effort am putting in. He made me the pectorals workout very intense at the lowest weight and I was shocked.

This is how the conversation went.

X : Give me 45 days and I will get your body in whatever shape you want. We will work on your thighs, shoulders and waist and get you an hourglass figure

Me : I don’t care about shape and size. I want to get fit and strong. I want to get to full range full form pushups and pull ups

X : Done. Give me 45 days and I will get there

Me : Deal

Guess it is time to make ambitious goals and get some help to meet them.