Journey around the world: Bulgaria & Turkey

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BULGARIA

Some guys tried to convince us not to go to Bulgaria. According to them, it would be a waste of time as it 'did not have much to offer'. That was funny as we heard the same story about every single country that we crossed on our way: Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and even Poland.

'I never heard of someone traveling in that region the way you do,' said an old friend of mine once he was told we were hitchhiking towards Turkey. I never rush to take this kind of warnings for granted as it's just a view from someone else's perspective. Someone, who is not involved in traveling in general.

Nevertheless, Kamile and I decided to change the way we travel for the next couple of days. Not because there was something wrong with the old one, but to have some more diversity in our experiences. That is how we ended up on the train to Ruse, which was the first city on the other side of the Romanian-Bulgarian border.

Not only the way of traveling was different, but also the whole country itself had a very special feeling about it. The first thing that we noticed was that all the signs were written in another alphabet. Passengers had plenty of time to investigate their Bulgarian newspapers as for some reason the train was stopped by the Border Officers for way longer than expected.

The reason for the delay was one of our fellow travelers as he didn't have all the necessary documents. Once we finally reached the Ruse train station, our next train was already gone. Despite the fact we didn't plan to stay here, there was no other way out than to spend the night in the city and catch the next train early in the morning.

It is difficult to think when your belly sings. Not far away there was a store. I grabbed a loaf of bread and a bottle of kefir and left it in a blink of an eye. The gazebo in front of the fuel station seemed like a perfect spot to have a snack, but the moment of silence and chewing did not take too long.

'Hey, guys! Where are you from? Do you need a place to spend the night?' - asked one of the members of the staff. 'I will call my friend James. I am sure he will help you.'

15 minutes later we found ourselves in James' apartment. Everything happened so quickly, that we did not really understand what happened. All we knew was that James was a cool British guy that was super fascinating to talk with. That's exactly what we did for the next couple of hours.

Long story short, James ended up in Ruse because of a girl. Later he started a business and decided to stay. I would not be surprised if we were not the only travelers that he helped out in the past. Most likely, to him, it looked like an obvious thing to do. 

The next two days in Bulgaria were super relaxing. The road led to Varna and Burgas - two beautiful cities on the coast of the Black Sea. We ate delicious foods, sunbathed, and even slept under the stars. The night was so warm that I was perfectly fine with only a T-Shirt and shorts.

TURKEY

After a short vacation, it was time for an adventure far more intense as we finally reached the Turkish border. The check-up procedure was simple: one of the officers checked our passports, another one - our backpacks. EU residents do not need a visa unless they plan to stay in Turkey for more than 3 months so entry is simple.

I've heard that you can only cross the border by car so the best solution was to try out Turkish buses and yes, they are great! The bus culture in Turkey is so well developed that it is difficult to compare with anything I've seen before. There was ice cream, a TV and some snacks as well as WiFi, which was useful.

The first difference between Europeans and local Turks was their clothes. European men wore shorts and colorful tank tops with pictures of characters from 'Dragon Ball Z' while local men wore long pants and neatly flattened shirts of conservative colors. Their dark eyes were full of self-confidence.

Turkish women wore colorful clothes with long sleeves. Some of them has scarves, some of them didn't but in most cases, older women hid their hair. Children were dressed the same way that we are used to seeing 'on this side of the fence'.

ISTANBUL

Our experience in Istanbul started with an adventure in the local Bazar. One of those men who make a living by cleaning shoes walked in front of me when I noticed he dropped his brush. I returned the brush to its owner and that happened to be a humongous mistake.

In order to 'thank me,' the man insisted to clean my hiking boots. Not wanting to offend him I agreed. After the quick procedure, he asked if we would like to visit his friend's store and potentially buy something. We agreed to walk with him, but without any promises to spend any money, of which we did not have much in the first place.

To make the story shorter I will say that we followed him for at least a kilometer until we agreed that it takes too long. The guy seemed angry and asked for some 'shoe money'. As we were in his territory surrounded by his friends I gave him some cash and thought of the situation as if it was a good lesson. At the end of the day, my boots were very clean.

After exploring the city for one day, @Kamile and agreed that it would be nice to get to know some locals. The same second we got an invitation from Gurcan Yavuz, a guy from couchsurfing.com, to be his guests for the next few days. At that point, we felt we were very lucky.

As you may or may not know the part of Istanbul that is located west of Bosphorus is said to be in Europe, while the one that is located east of Bosphorus is said to be in Asia. As our host's place was on the other side, we had to take a ferry and when we finally crossed it we officially reached Asia. At that time it looked like a big thing for beginner travelers like ourselves.

Our host was a cheerful young man. He invited us to his cozy apartment and showed us our room. Back then, we were not married yet so he asked if sharing a room was be OK, as his apartment was pretty small. Later that evening he ordered some Turkish food of which some was delicious, some was, let's say, unfamiliar to our taste receptors.

Gurcan Yavuz was a mobile apps developer working with projects that back then were widely used. Most of the time he worked in his favorite cafe or at his desk by the window at his own apartment. Such freedom let him to some extent to choose his working hours. He decided to take a day off and be our city guide for the whole day.

First thing in the morning, we went to our host's favorite restaurant, which according to him was the best in that part of the city. Despite the past years erased some of my memories and I do not recall what exactly it was that we ordered, but I do remember the feeling. It was some of the best food that I have ever tasted in 23 years of my life. (All this happened in 2016)

The sun was shining brightly and the mood was great. Mostly because the waiter cheered us up by putting two flags on the table: the Turkish flag and the Lithuanian one. The so-called Bosphorus tour helped too. Luckily, we were led by a local who was more than happy to answer even the silliest questions.

We were strongly suggested to visit Topkapi Palace. In the Sultan's palace that is said to be built in 1478, rulers lived for several hundred years. Occupying an area of ​​400,000 square meters, the Topkapi Palace palace is one of the largest palaces in the world.

While wandering around some random streets and parks, shops and markets, our Turkish friend told us his story. It turned out, he got his Master's degree in one of the universities in Sweden. While he had never been to Lithuania, he had been in the Baltic region once. Tallinn, Estonia to be precise.

The next day our pleasant stay in this vibrant metropolis had come to an end. It's important to mention that during those two days, Yavuz didn't let us pay for anything. According to him, in his culture and in the way that he was raised guests are sacred and it was his honor and duty.

ANKARA

Ankara is the capital city of Turkey. Despite being located only 420 km away from Istanbul, it had a totally different atmosphere. The kind of atmosphere that you feel in some European cities.

In Ankara, we used couchsurfing.com once again. This time we contacted Mahir Nazlıer - a man (if I recall it right) in his (very) early 40s, working as a Certified Public Accountant in his own company.  

A part of his house was occupied by a nicely furnished office. Most notable detail was the massive table (probably made of oak), leather furniture, and large paintings. Other rooms are also adapted for work.

The host turned out to be very educated and easy to communicate with. Back in the day, he had been to a few dozen countries himself. No wonder why he was well versed in geography and history. Even after more than 5 years, I remember him asking me how many letters the Lithuanian alphabet had.

For the first time, I had to meet a man with such a calm and peaceful voice. He admitted that he cares about his health and inner state, practices meditation and yoga. To be honest I have to say that one of a few people that even after all those years still writes us and asks how are we doing.

The next morning started early as there was a mission that had to be accomplished. Yes, I am talking about finding the Iranian Consulate and getting a visa. It was something that sounded easy in the beginning but proved to be a true pain in the butt later.

The thing is, those who arrive in Iran by plane are eligible to get the 'Visa on Arrival' and it takes at most a couple of hours. However, those who decide to travel by land, need a regular visa which is far more difficult to get.

It was like trying to catch your own tail. At the Iranian Consulate, we were told to go to the travel agency to get an authorization code. Once we got there, we were told it had moved to another place. Once we got to that other place, we were sent to the third one. At the last place, we were informed that we had to fill the form and wait for a few weeks until we get the code.

I can not find the blog post about the whole process of getting a visa but I am sure you can find some info online. We filled the form and had two or three weeks to explore the country so that's what we did.

Sometimes it is hard to tell why the road takes you where it takes you. Sometimes you see that you are supposed to see, sometimes you hear that you are supposed to hear. Nevertheless, we didn't stay here for too long, my best guess is we were sent to Ankara to meet those that we were supposed to meet. Big thanks to our host.

Photo by Febiyan on Unsplash

CAPPADOCIA

"Judging by his accent it seems your friend is descended from Iran," - the driver said once he finished talking to Farzad.

We finally arrived in Nevşehir - the capital district of Nevşehir Province in the Central Anatolia Region of Turkey and is within the historical region of Cappadocia. In recent years Nevşehir & Cappadocia have become huge tourist destinations.

The reason for this is a unique alien-like landscape and so-called 'fairy chimneys as well as the history behind thousands of caves carved into the limestone centuries ago.

We were met by Farzan - a young man, about our age, who invited us to be his guests for the next following days. As strange as it may sound, what was supposed to be a short stay, lasted for seven days. Thanks to the hospitability of Farzad and his friends.

This was the first time we met someone of Iranian descent. Farzad was happy to hear we planned to visit his homeland and did not spare some advice. He said that there were a few things that we had to learn prior to crossing the border. Differences between different regions, customs of his people, and some useful Persian words and phrases were a few of them.

Early in the morning, Farzad to us on a tour. We were joined by his friend Ibrahim that he called Ibo. Ibo had some experience of being a tour guide for some rich tourists. Farzad proved to be full of surprises too. As someone deeply involved in photography, he knew all the best places of Cappadocia.

According to some sources, the history behind this region is very interesting. Millions of years ago two vulcanos erupted and the whole area got covered by ashes. Millenniums passed and this thick layer turned into porous rock, which later formed fairy chimneys.

Farzad took us to the nearby town called Göreme. If I'm not mistaken, the name of the town means 'you can not see me here' or something like that. Thousands of caves that were carved into the rock hundreds of years ago are still being used today. Well, at least some of them.

Some of those caves were transferred into barns or warehouses, others were turned into luxurious hotels and guest houses. Staying in them usually costs a fortune but at the time Turkey was in a sort of tourism crisis. It happened an incident between Russian and Turkish military forces after which Russian tourists decided to look for alternative holiday destinations.

For a few hours, it felt we were the only foreigners on the site. Farzad took us to meet some local ladies who at the time of our arrival were baking some bread. Our Iranian friend told us that one of them was thinking of him as he was hew own child since he moved to Nevşehir.

Later that day, we met some of Farzad's friends. They said I looked much younger than Farzad, despite the fact we were of the same age. As time passed, I got convinced that Persian men have strong masculine looks in general. However, at least the ones that I was lucky to meet, were kind and of a gentle manner.

Iranians wanted to learn Lithuanian. They tried to pronounce some of our words and phrases. In Lithuania, we have something that we call 'greitakalbės'. I think there is no direct translation but I think English call them 'tongue breakers'.

'Šešios žąsys su šešiom žasytėm' is one of them. 'Geri vyrai geroj girioj gerą girą gėrė gerdami gyrė' is another. One of our new buddies confessed that all he was hearing was 'guri guri'. To us, such an observation was extremely funny.

'Is it true that Persians eat using their right hands only?' - I asked them during dinner. 

'What? Why would we do that?' - all of them giggled.

It turned out that half of the people in the room, including @Kamile, were left-handed. This realization forced us to laugh uncontrollably. Eventually, the laughter was replaced by singing, dancing, and long hours of chatting about the cultural differences and similarities between the two nations.

Each day offered something new. Each morning we postponed our departure over and over ago. All the time there was another reason to stay. Meeting some more friends, going for a picnic and so on. After seven days we finally felt that the time has come to say 'Good Bye' and get back to the road.

SIVAS

Someone asked how we choose which way to go. My answer was that we flip a coin. If it lands on the number, we go East, if it lands on the head, we go west, and if it lands on the edge - we go home. This time the direction we chose was North, towards the Black Sea.

The last time we slept in our tent was two weeks ago. That's mostly because using so-called hospitality platforms as couchsurfing.com is so popular that we ended up finding a host every single time one was needed. Sivas was no exception.

This time we were invited to stay by a couple. Both of them were curious how such decisions to leave home and travel are made. Personally, I think that there are some things that we come to this world to experience.

Those things vary from person to person and there are many ways to reach the same destination. To some extent, we may choose the path and each path has its price. At this point, our paths went side by side, and Kamile and I ended up in various situations that led us to certain realizations which were a part of a bigger journey that takes place throughout the whole lifetime.

It's funny but sometimes we take similar paths that were taken by our parents and grandparents. For example, when my father was my age, his path led him to The Black Sea as well.

SAMSUN

In the morning, we went to Sivas Ethnographic Museum and had some morning at the local cafe. The owner came to say hello and served us some local deserts. I think he was happy to meet some curious foreigners and share some stories and historical facts. The same thing happened once we went to another cafe somewhere further away from the city center.

As I say, 'East od West, Sea is best'. Without further delay, we continued our trip and reached the coast of The Black Sea before the sunset. We were picked up by a local businessman, who introduced himself as 'Captain'. It was a nickname derived from his family name, as his full name was Bulent Kaptan.

Captain took us to his yacht where we met Kagan. A guy of our age that worked at Captain cafeteria. As it turned out, we were not the only guests that planned to stay at Kagan's place. The other two were Pavel and Valentina. Two cyclists from Ukraine were on their trip around the Black Sea.

Valentina explained that they usually sleep in their tent, but last night they were attacked by a pack of semi-homeless dogs. This and the need for spare parts and other supplies led them to Samsun.

Both us and they stayed at Kagan's apartment for two nights, but early in the morning of the next day, right after breakfast, we took different paths to explore the city.

The first thing we wanted to see was the Beach. Kagan had a few hours to spare so we went there together. Swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying great weather. Later Kagan had some business to do and we were left to continue our exploration alone.

The Amazon sculpture and the famous sculpture of the Anatolian Lion were the things we came upon first. Later, we did what we like the most, which is exploring the streets in a very random and improvised manner. In the evening, all of us came together again. This time we met for some dinner at Captain's Cafeteria.

Finally, the party moved to Captain's yacht again where we met some of his friends. The moment when he introduced them to us is stuck in my mind even after all these years.

“I’ve always said that you can judge a man by his friends. For example, this one is a successful business. He hires (...) people. The other one is successful too. He hires (...) people. The one that sits beside him, works for someone else, but he is honest and has many talents. These are my friends. However, if my friends were nothing, then who would I be? It's simple. I would be nothing too!”

TABRIZ

The route that we took next went parallel to the coast of the Black Sea. Hitchhiking was as easy as it could be. Never have we ever stood there with our thumbs up for more than a few minutes.

Kagan was right when he said that those long-distance drivers know the best places to eat. Some of them did not speak English, but the so-called universal language of random sounds and hand gestures always worked.

The explanation 'Lituania autostop, Romania autostop, Bulgaristan autostop, Turkia autostop' always led to driver's astonishment and food. Yes, you heard me right. We were taken to eat so many times that our poor bellies were at constant risk to be torn apart.

Strange as it may sound, once we ate Turkish picas which were about 1 meter long. The same driver that fed us, gave us a dozen cans of lemonade when it was time to turn separate ways.

That was not all. A teacher named Ömer Faruk, that we met in Ordu, gave us 3 kg of hazelnuts. Do you even imagine how difficult it is to carry that much extra weight? However, the fact that all of them have been so kind made our hearts sing.

Finally, we arrived in Trabzon. The city that is well known among some groups of people for its football team Trabzonspor, as well as for many other reasons. This time our host was a university music teacher who had many other fields of interest besides art, including computer games and cooking.

Things had an unexpected turn when something got stuck in my eye. As I was not able to get it out by myself, I had to seek some help. This is how we ended up in the hospital where nobody spoke English except the doctor himself. However, getting to see him took three hours of wandering the corridors and solving riddles.

At the end of the day, the doctor, who was about the size of two average grown-up men, took the thing out by using nothing else than a piece of newspaper. Then he pretended that he was trying to break my head and showed me his fist, which was as big as a hammer.

'Do you like sports?' - he asked. 'As a matter of fact, I am a boxer myself.'  Then he finally released me and wished me good luck.

On our way home, we decided to stop for a second and have a snack. Some men that worked at one of the local stores noticed us and invited us for a cup of tea. As no one spoke English, we used a mobile app to do some translations. In this way, we managed to have a relatively decent conversation.

Once they understood who we were and how far away from home we were, not only did they order some food, but also gave Kamile a gift. A bathrobe with a logo of their favorite football team, which was of course 'Trabzonspor'.

Clearly, our host was a bit jealous of this kind of gift that we got. The thing is that it was not only a blessing but also a curse, as it added even more extra weight. It is both funny and sad that we carried it for the next few months until we finally sent it home. How stupid indeed.

In the Iranian Embassy in Trabzon, we were told that our authorization codes were not ready yet. It meant that we had time for an adventure that we did not plan before. Yes, we decided to hitchhike to yet another country, which was neighboring Georgia...


The events mentioned in this article happened in 2016. All this occurred in the span of 3 weeks. It was a part of a bigger journey that took 1 year. Seasoned travelers know, that during such extended trips, there are some days when you don't feel like taking pictures, filming, or taking notes. This journey across Turkey had such moments as well.

Only a handful of memorable situations were mentioned above as to describe the whole stay would have taken writing at least a few separate articles. Also, yes, Turkey has many places of much higher historical or visual significance than the ones mentioned above. However, this particular trip was not about enjoying superficial beauty.

It was about letting the road lead us rather than trying to squeeze it into a box of expectations. It was about mastering the ability to notice beauty in tiny details, often invisible to an untrained eye. It was about learning to accept the challenges and, at first glance, inconvenient situations that were sent to push us out of our entrenched beliefs and preconceived notions. 


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