Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013 - No comments

Railroad Ramblings

Trains really are my favourite way to travel.  You get to see the countryside and all the little towns you wouldn’t see from a plane (or even the highway) and you skip all the traffic and sorting directions and motion sickness you (at least I) deal with in a car.  Plus, there are all sorts of interesting people to look at and talk to.  Good deal all around.  

The only inter-city train I’ve taken in Turkey is the one from Istanbul to Sofia, Bulgaria.  I did that twice for visa runs back in the early days.  That one goes at night, so you can’t see anything, and you have to stand outside and freeze at the border in the wee hours of the morning, which really isn’t my idea of a fun outing.  

Some of my most memorable train trips have been from Beijing to Western China (try using a squatty potty while the train is rocking back and forth!) and the time my mom and I took the Amtrak from Seattle to Yuma, Arizona to visit my grandparents when I was ten.  We made friends with a Brazilian lady and her daughter who hardly knew any English and we played and “talked” for much of that forty-one hour trip.  Apparently I got the “cross-cultural communication bug” at a young age.  :)

Right now I’m on the Selçuk - İzmir train, having popped in to see a friend at her guesthouse on my way to visit other friends in Izmir.  (Most people come to Selçuk for Ephesus - I come for this joyful lady.)  It’ll be a bit over an hour and I have a seat, so it should be a pleasant ride.

It’s spring in the Aegean - much more so than at home where we’ve crossed into summer and most of the wildflowers have already dried up.  The Ege (Aegean) is blooming pink and white, with bougainvillea trailing down the south sides of houses and squat, fuller palm trees than the ones we have.  It’s always had sort of a “vacation” feel to me - not the “sun and sand” my town is known for, but more the “barbecue and çay on the balcony and laughter into the night” feel of my friend Mehmet’s village.  Maybe it’s because I only ever come out this way when I’m on vacation.

It’s been a stormy day, and while the rain has stopped, the sky is gray and the clouds low, making the poppies and bougainvillea stand out all the more beautifully.  I love watching the fields fly by - row upon straight row of crops that seem to curve and come alive as we whiz past.  Not so many silvery olive trees here, but lots of vineyards in this drier climate.

The towns we’re passing through feel a lot older to me than most where I live.  Perhaps it’s just that most of our older buildings - save those inside the fortress walls - have been torn down to build high-rise apartments.  I guess, too, Izmir has been a “modern city” for a good hundred years, while my city has only boomed in the last twenty.  We’ve got Roman ruins and mega-malls, but not much in between.

Most of these neighbourhoods along the tracks are poorer and run down, so there are more of the decrepit, colourfully painted cement houses that I love - peeling green doors, crooked blue shutters, purple iron gates, rainbows of laundry strung across terraces under terra cotta roofs.  

Turkish flags wave as we pass, a high percentage of them sporting the face of the great Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, increasing steadily as we approach “Gavur İzmir” (“Infidel Izmir”), the great bastion of secularism.

It’s approaching evening.  Outside the window, men are on their way home from work or crowded in the cafes, drinking tea and playing backgammon.  Women pull their loaded carts home from the pazar and boys play football in empty lots.  The scruffy man across from me has clearly had a long day and is sprawled out across two seats, amusing the rest of us with his snoring and his dreamland exclamations of “Aboooooooo!”  

I love the old stone buildings at the railway stations, with their wooden benches outside by the tracks for waiting.  They look just how I imagine they looked fifty years ago, before bus and air travel took over.  I can easily picture Ahmet, Yasemin and Rüya from “Hatırla Sevgili” getting off to buy a snack on their way up to Istanbul.  

Sometimes I try to see the passing sights with new eyes - fresh, like they were before shepherds and headscarves and döner shops became familiar fare, before this land became home.  I remember what it was like my first time here, traversing the country by bus, nose glued to the window, taking it all in.  Back then I didn’t know a pomegranate tree from a fig tree or have a clue how to render grape leaves an edible delicacy.  Every trip to the store was an adventure, and every new town a treasure trove waiting to be unpacked.  

Today, traveling a route I’ve never traveled before, I feel like I’ve recaptured just a little slice of that wonder...