Thursday, August 23, 2012

Traveling with the Turkish

I recently from a weekend in Samos, Greece traveling with a Turkish tour group. It was an interesting experience to say the least, and the beaches, towns and historical sites are beautiful and interesting. There are plenty of pictures to view on Facebook so, rather than be repetitive, I thought I would share my thoughts about being an American in a Turkish group.

The Turks have not been welcome in Greece (and vice versa) for many years, but due to the economic crisis in Europe and the very poor economy in Greece, all tourist dollars are now welcome. My tour was organized by a man who had visited Greece and was now an "expert." I learned about the tour from some Turkish English teacher friends.

My friends had me spend the night at their house. After 3 1/2 hours of sleep we woke up at 3:30 am to meet a shuttle bus to take us to the main bus station where we boarded the coach that drove us 1 1/2 hours to Ku┼čadasi which dropped us at a bus station out of town where we caught a taxi to the ferry terminal at 7:30 am. (Four hours of traveling to go about 100 km...a car would have given us another 3 hours of sleep...)We then waited another hour to meet up with some more Turkish friends and the "tour guide". Luckily the ferry terminal is located at a major cruise ship port so I enjoyed a nice Starbucks coffee to help me both wake up and pass the time.

After handing over our passports to said "tour guide" who would buy our ferry tickets and secure our visas, we waited another 1 1/2 hours in the baking sun to board the ferry. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m. but with the Ramadan crowds and all...well let's just say it didn't run like a German train. About 9:45 am we left the dock.

The ferry ride itself was uneventful and the scenery was beautiful. We pulled into the Greek port of Samos at about 11:30 a.m. and jumped off the ship eager to start our island adventure. Our eagerness was met with the efficiency of Greek passport/customs control. In other words, I finally found a government office that takes more patience than those I've experience in Turkey. I was wondering Greece was implementing "austerity measures" to stick it German Chancellor Merkel, or if they were seriouisly welcoming 400 Turkish tourists with only one custom's agent. Being stuck waiting on the baking hot pavement for over an hour so "the man" could scan our passports and "the woman" could dig through our luggage, did not encourage my fellow tourists to open their wallets and shop and the many tourists stores lining the quay. The European Union passengers (of which there were about 8) got their own private custom's officer and breezed through in under five minutes. I, traveling with my American passport, was stuck in the Turkish line, although I was ushered through with much less scrutiny. And, because it's not in my nature to shove and push, I was one of the last to actually make it through the line.

It was now 1:30 pm and time to rent a car. Did we want a Suzuki/open air Jeep like thing, or a car with air conditioning? Oh, and by the way, because it's Ramadan the price of cars has doubled. So much for the "reservation" our "tour guide" made. Thankfully, my travel companions chose the air conditioning. As much fun as the topless vehicle appeared, not once did we ever stop and sunbathe, and the topless car would have greatly contributed to the dreaded, avoid-at-all-costs, Turkish suntan...

The car rental process only took about 1 1/2 hours so we were just in time for a 3:30 pm lunch and cold beer. Let the vacation begin!...

Checking into the hotel was a little stressful. Before we left I had already indicated that, "No, I would not share a room with a young man from The Netherlands." After discussion about putting 3 beds in one room and giving me the single, (which makes me look like the bad guy but you can bet that they wouldn't ask a Turkish woman to share with a strange man!) the manager came up with the solution of an additional room at no extra charge. (No duh!I'd already asked for this a week ago and been told it wasn't possible. I'm sure the "tour guide" never asked. And, after we checked out on Sunday, the "tour guide/scammer" collected an additional sum from me for the extra room, when in fact I'm sure the poor hotel owner never saw an additional cent. I would have happily paid the hotel owner, but not the "tour guide".) Long story short...my single room was beautiful!

Minus the "tour" or lack thereof, the rest of the trip was delightful. Our original group of 18 split into smaller groups. We were a group of 9 in two vehicles including two lovely Turkish couples about my age who love hiking, could speak a little English, and who had traveled before on this island. They introduced us to hidden beaches, interesting touristic places, and local food and music.

I did learn many things from this experience. 1) I don't need a Turkish tour guide to book a hotel, buy a ferry ticket, or reserve a car. Actually, I knew that before but I was joining some nice young friends who have not done a lot of traveling so I was being a good sport with a driver's license. 2) I do need Turkish lessons because the cost of not being able to advocate from myself is getting too great. Between the "let's fleece the American" and my inability to "argue back", I probably paid enough additional Euros this past week (Greece and Turkey combine) to pay for about 4 weeks of Turkish lessons. 3) I'm not a fan of waiting for buses and taxis at 3:30 in the morning and I prefer the independence of renting my own car. 4) If I spoke Turkish, I could open shop as a tour operator and do a really good job.

Anyway, I'm back in Turkey planning/plotting my next adventure.

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