So, I am in Italy now. It probably won't come as a surprise to anyone that my journey here did not go at all as planned: I had really, really wanted to cycle again those nice 100 or so kilometres in Greece. But the day that I was supposed to be there it was basically raining heavily all the time - at least according to the weather forecast. So I had to change my plans and decided to instead cycle the not so nice part of the way. Which also meant cancelling my couchsurfing host, which was ok, because she wouldn't have been there anyway, but I still felt bad because of all the effort she made in order to make sure I can get the key. Well, nothing to do about that. So far, so good. So after a terrible bike ride from Izmir to Çeşme - I had not forgotten how bad the road was, but I actually had forgotten how terrible the feeling was, when you had to cycle uphill for hours on a road that doesn't even deserve that name. I survived, and I made it just in time to arrive at my hotel for the night as the sun set. So all was good. I also managed to get on the ferry the next morning without problems. Then I had to kill 14 hours in Chios, whereby the weather forecast had predicted rain from 4pm onwards. Which meant that my goal was to enjoy a sunny morning at the beach and then find a hiding place for the evening until the ferry left at 11pm. So that was my goal. I went to the beach and got ready to enjoy, when clouds got thicker and thicker and quite suddenly a rather heavy rainfall started. I quickly fled to the nearest place with a proper roof (bus stop wasn't the best option as it was open towards the side the weather came from). I stayed under that roof for the following two hours and I was very glad I did, because the heavy rainfall soon turned into a heavy downpour. I was only a bit wet and could avoid getting drenched, luckily. The sun came out again after noon and it was really warm for a couple hours in which time I dried almost completely and could warm up again. I also understood that it is not a good idea to rely on the weather forecast, meaning that I simply had to cancel all my cycling in Greece, considering that I could still remember very well, how hard it had been to find a place to stay on my way east in summer. So I did not want to end up in the rain with not place to go. Too risky. So I decided that my best option was to just stay a day in Athens and then take the train to Patra the next day. Good thing I had so much time to think. Interesting fact on the side: I read more pages of the French book I have on me during my time in Chios than I did in the past two years.
It turned out, it did not actually start to rain at 4. It started to rain at 8. I am, of course, the last to complain about that, but it does show that my decision to better not trust the weather forecast was a good one. So I only had to find a dry place indoors for 3 hours. That was doable. I ended up in a place called the Green Bus Stop. It probably used to be a bus stop earlier because there was still a place that said "Tickets" on it. I am not sure what it really is now, but it looked like a place for homeless people to hang out. It is not, I am sure. Well, I am sure, homeless people go there as well, because it is dry and a little bit warmer than outside and there are toilets and you don't have to consume anything, but many of the guests were probably not actually homeless. I had noticed quite a few men sitting around not doing anything, when I was walking around before. I was wondering if they were refugees but I didn't ask. I also have reason to assume that one of them (or several) opened my bag, that I had left with my bike, as I always had. I am not sure if they had been looking for choco pops, but in any case, that was the only thing I found missing, so I was not too upset. I hope they enjoyed them. Later, when it was raining and I found myself in the Green Bus Stop with random people, I had forgiven the thieves and would have been happy to talk to people but they were all watching football in groups and I didn't know how to start a conversation. I was also very aware of the fact that I was literally the only female in the place. So we accepted each other and left each other in peace.
In the night, as I was checking in at the ferry port, I found there were about as many police people as passengers. Stupidly, one of them asked me, what I had done in Chios. I was quite at a loss of something to say, not really knowing if he wanted to hear a rundown of all the places and park benches I had sat and laid down on throughout the day, one by one. Probably not. I guess I did not look too scary, so they let me go with half an answer. I still don't know if they were looking for criminals or for refugees, because with my look and my passport you would assume that it was clear that I was not an illegal immigrant. Either way, I boarded the ferry and arrived in Pireas, save and sound the next morning after having slept very little.
From there I then took the road not to the west, where I wanted to go but east to Athens. Before I went to the hostel I went to the railway station as I was still not 100% sure that I could actually take my bike on the train. And I was right to go, as it turned out that even at the station, they were unable to tell me if I could. However, this was the first time that I found out that actually, the train from Kiato to Patra was not a train but a bus run by the train company. And probably it wouldn't transport my bike, was the only information I could get. No certainties either way.
However, Greece, despite the overwhelming presence of men in public spaces and the lack of women (actually most of the women I saw seemed to be refugees - reason for me to state that the presence of refugees makes the country even better, but that is me saying this after spending one day in Athens, so maybe not based on all that much evidence), showed itself, once again from its best side. I still remember how I felt almost like Mexico when I first arrived in Greece some months ago. And this time the feeling got even stronger. So strong that I really wanted to either stay in Greece or go to Mexico. Maybe I will soon. So, the guy at the station told me I could try and take a bus. I asked for directions to the bus station and some guy who knew very very little English gave me a perfect description of the way, so I got there. Then at the place I had to ask a couple times more to actually find the entrance. I arrived at a place that could have been any place in Mexico. I immediately felt like home. Also, the guy who sold me a ticket for the bus did not even hesitate when I asked if I could take my bike. Of course, I could! So that was solved.
I say I felt like in Mexico but the thing that was clearly different was that I wasn't speaking these people's language. I relied on them knowing English and I felt bad for that. Mind you, there was one lady who just gave me directions in Greek and pointing and that worked as well. Talking about languages: Of course, I am trying to recover my long lost Italian at the moment. The funny thing is: even though my Turkish is far from good still (very far even), now that I don't need it any more random Turkish words keep entering my mind when I am trying to speak Italian. And they block out everything else. It is very frustrating!
The only thing that remained to do was to find the hostel, that I had found on the internet. Again I asked about five times until I finally got there. They had a bed free - which surprised me, knowing my luck with hostels - and they let me even check in at 11 am, which was very nice. So I could have a shower and go out sight-seeing feeling like a human again. Well, at least so I wandered off. After walking for half an hours I was so tired I had to sit down on a park bench. I laid down even. Suddenly a guy came up to me and asked me where I was from. I told him. He said 'I thought something German, because this is what they do'. He meant laying down on a park bench. He said he wanted to chat with me so I wouldn't fall asleep. I am not sure why he thought it would be a bad idea to fall asleep on the park bench, but I would have slept if he hadn't talked to me, for sure. I ended up not doing much sightseeing because I was too tired, didn't feel like spending money to enter the olympic stadium which I felt I saw enough of even from the outside, and also, on my way from Pireas I had gotten lost and thereby already had seen the main places. Somehow when I get lost in cities it seems it is always in the centres and I always end up sightseeing by accident. I do not know if from this you can draw the conclusion that my sightseeing is always just and accident but I wouldn't say anything to the contrary either. Of course, my ending up in Athens in the first place, was just due to the bad weather in the west of the country.
The next day I sat in the bus, taking in the beautiful landscape and the sun that then was shining, only few puddles proving the rain of the day before. Why couldn't it have rained one day earlier or two days later? I so wished I could have biked there! I probably will go back, just because...
A couple hours after my arrival in Patra I was sat in the ferry. A cruise ship ferry, this time, with pool and gym and casino. Not that I had any intention to visit any of those, but I did get an upgrade for complaining about the cold in the place where I was meant to be. Which was nice, not so much because the other place was fancier (and warmer!), but because this place had windows - and there were also not that many people there. Still, I missed the little ship we had coming here. But this time I was going to Ancona which, apparently, is the busier route.
Due to heavy head winds, we were almost two hours late in hour arrival at Ancona which meant that the already rather short time I would have had of daylight to get to Rimini was diminished by half, meaning that I knew I couldn't make it. So again I had to take the train and could not cycle as I had wanted to. Well, also it was rather cold which made cycling not so much fun. So the only stretch of way that I really did cycle again was from Milano to home (about 40 km). And I must say, it was good that I did cycle this bit, because otherwise I would really have stayed in the believe that Italy is possibly the best cycling country after the Netherlands - remember, when I was cycling here in the summer I literally always had a cycling route I followed. But no, if you do not have a cycling route it is not really better than Sweden, Norway, or any of those. I still don't know how I managed to miss the point where I had to go from one major road to another one. I knew, where I had to go (for once, the traffic signs were clear), but where I needed to turn, suddenly there was a sign indicating the beginning of an autostrada where bicycles are not allowed. Clearly the road I needed to go to was not an autostrada but apparently the only way to get there was via the autostrada, which was rather frustrating, because it meant, not only did I have to make a detour but also I was lost and did not know how to get where I had to go. But, luckily, I got back to "my" road soon (without autostrada), and made it - more or less - safely to home. The recounts of my new home will follow a bit later. Here is some tales from Turkey, that I still owe you:
Even though I had several days now to get over it, I still, somehow, can't believe that I have left Turkey. Well, to be honest, I can't even believe that I have lived in Turkey. Probably I do travel too much. I can't believe I've been to Norway, Sweden and Denmark this summer either and I can't believe it was me who biked all those days to arrive in Turkey. It is very strange. The bad thing about stopping in the youth hostel in Athens was, that I had internet there, so I learned that a car bomb exploded in Izmir literally the day after I left the country. As seems to be normal for me, just before I left I became friends with a woman in Izmir so I chatted with her for a bit. Of course, it is easy to say, there is not reason to be scared, when you are not there. I don't think I would have been scared if I had been there, also because I had never been scared of the terrorist attacks and the truth is, they can happen anywhere. I have also been to enough dangerous places without being scared so I know for me it would not have been a big deal. But I understand that people get upset. My friend was very upset and I tried to understand what it must feel like, when a place that you call home, suddenly becomes a place that you are scared of. Well, I am at a loss even to understand the feeling of home but I was trying to understand her.
But other than terrorist attacks, what is Turkey to me after three months? Or rather, western Turkey, because what do I know about the rest of the country? I did not even start to understand the culture even in the west. A few things I did notice, though - apart from the birds. I was surprised to get the idea that religion seems to play much less of a role than it does in Austria, for example. Not that it does play a big role there, but you can buy things (like necklaces, for example) with crosses almost everywhere. Of course, Islam does not have any equivalent of crosses but I had learned that Friday at noon public life just stops for half an hour or so while everybody is a their prayer. None of this was noticeable in the city. I think seeing a woman with a headscarf was much less common in the part of Izmir where I lived, than in any German city. The muezzins' songs were heard five times a day but I was quite surprised at how little attention people seemed to pay to them. I understand that my part of the city was the richest and that Izmir is not a very Turkish city anyway but I really was surprised at all of this. It was also no until I consciously passed another part of the city, which, clearly, was much poorer and looked almost like a slum in comparison, that I realized how neglected the mosques appeared in the place where I lived. Not neglected in the sense that they were run-down but neglected in the sense that they were so much surrounded by huge apartment buildings, that their beauty and greatness was just completely lost. Only in that slum-like (which was no slum at all, just in comparison) place, where houses were small and built with very little space between them, the mosque, in the middle of the quarter, actually was the biggest and prettiest building and did stand out as something special, like religious buildings probably should. I can't say much about the city of Izmir, otherwise, because it really is just a city like any other.
The people, I noticed, seem to be quite obsessed with their looks, more than anywhere else I have lived. When I went to school to pick up the boy, I felt so much out of place I didn't even bother to try and fit in because there was no way I ever would anyway. The funny thing was, that, because of this, more than anything, I mainly felt much younger then the mothers - most of whom must have been around my age, seeing that their children were between 6 and 10. But they all looked so perfectly dressed, with about 1 kg of make-up on their faces, they seemed so grown up in a way that made me feel very young and very happy to be free from whatever standards they were thinking of having to live up to. Along the same lines, when going into shops, you notice that Turkish people must love Kitsch. There is so much there to buy, things that would never ever sell in any European country I know, because they are just so much over-done they are not even nice any more. But Turkish homes seem to be full of them (the home I lived in, certainly was). Mind you, the worst Christmas trees I saw on my journey (and possibly in my life), were on board of the ferry from Greece to Italy - and there were several of them, one worse than the other.
Other than that, there were not that many people who knew English well enough for me to talk to them much, so I cannot really draw any conclusions based on the very few conversations I had. However, I was quite surprised, the time when Facebook was blocked, to not find people complaining more about it. I mean, in every country I know, the popularity of a political leader would almost immediately move very close to zero, if they dared to stop their citizens from using their favourite means of communication. But here, people don't seem to care too much. Of course, I understand that it is not common in Turkey to talk about politics anyway, but one would assume that people would think it is their right to complain about Facebook being blocked. But I noticed no one do that (mind you, again, most of the time, when people were talking around me, I had no clue, what they were talking about).
A couple things more, however, I learned. The most important, I obviously knew before: truth is the first victim of war. And even when there is no real war, just a semi-war, then truth is still already long gone. The result is that - if you are not directly involved with something - it is nearly impossible to form an educated opinion on anything. You can listen to both sides, both sides will, most likely, have completely opposing views on a matter, and since you have no way to find out the truth, it is impossible to judge. Therefore, despite having lived in the country for a little bit, I have moved no closer to a better understanding or even judgement of the Turkish war against the Kurdish. The only one thing I feel quite sure of, is that the PKK terrorists actually do help to support the prime minister's war against the Kurdish, at least in this part of the country, because people do feel scared (and most people seem not to even understand, or realize that the targets of the terrorist attacks are almost always policemen and not civilians). Of course, if someone comes into "your" part of the country and kills random people, this will always give more support to politicians who claim that a war must be fought against that someone. Well, I guess, I will never understand the logics of war. And I just have to accept that there is no "true" answer to the question, who is right and who is wrong, in the situation of a war (or semi-war).
But one thing I did learn, and that was quite a good thing, was, that, if you do not know a country well and/or live there/have lived there some time, do not form an opinion on that country based on what you read in your newspaper.
Before Christmas, there was an article in an Austrian newspaper, talking about how a German school in Istanbul had told their teachers to not talk about Christmas any more, because they had previously, apparently, done so in a way that was deemed inappropriate. I know of no details of this, of course, nor do I care to know them. I do know, however, (based on the comments on the article and experience) that the issue was reason enough for people in Austria and Germany to think that Turkey as a whole is anti-Christmas, anti-Christian and basically hates everyone who is not a Muslim. I know, having lived here, and having had to see the terrible Christmas decorations in the shopping centres, the Christmas tree in the entrance hall of our apartment building, the Christmas songs in the elevator and in the malls, that, while they do not celebrate Christmas the way they do in Christian countries, it is certainly not banned in any way from this country. And if that is only so, because stores hope to increase their sales. Christmas and New Year's are a festive season here as everywhere else. Of course, the newspapers did not report this fact. Which is, why you shouldn't judge a place that you don't know, so easily. Lesson learned.