“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde


Ross’ Writings


Turkey, the Third Impression


Oh, how I am confused about this country.

I can’t fit it into a single, workable framework. I have tried really hard, but I can’t.

I’m going to use our experiences of last two days as an analogue that is, I am certain, nor representative of the whole country, nor the experience of many who have come before us – and will come after.

Nonetheless, it is what I have to work with, so here we go.

After the incident I previously wrote about, with the taxi driver determined to get us into his smoky cab no matter what, our transfer did show up and the drive to the airport was unbelievably smooth.

Indeed, the one and a half our drive for which they’d budgeted was over in less than 35 minutes.

In itself, this sheer inability to forecast traffic conditions has to be a huge brake on Istanbul’s economy, but that’s perhaps an issue for another day.

We made it through the airport and onto the plane, where we, and the fifty or so people behind us, were summarily held up by a self-righteous young woman trying to stuff an oversized bag into a regular sized overhead compartment.

Obviously sensing not only the futility of the endeavor, but the ire of the passengers watching the spectacle, the flight purser barged past Mel and I, yelling something at her in Turkish which I can only infer went along the lines of “please let me help you with that [you are holding up the departure of this flight, you idiot]”.

The young lady took serious umbrage at his insistence to help, giving him dirty looks and muttering under her breath at the serious and unforgivable injustice of having her bag sit one aisle behind her above somebody else.

The flight, otherwise pleasant enough, ended with a mad rush to the front for disembarkation beyond that which I’ve even seen on AirAsia flights (and I’ve been on a lot of those).

Seemingly drawn by some mystical force, as soon as the seat belt light turned off the aisle was full from those who had jumped up and rushed forward to occupy any available space. And then, exercising a unique style of etiquette, the plane emptied from the back as those at the front were not allowed to enter the aisle, lest they should delay the next person’s exit by a few milliseconds.

It was an absurd spectacle, made even more so by the fact that those same people were also the ones who – when we did ultimately make it out of our seats in row 4 – huddled around the luggage belt, as though doing so would will their bags to come out earlier than everybody else’s.

On a side note, whenever we do fly in Asia we are allocated seats at the very back of the plane. I always pretend to be flattered by this, as they obviously care for my safety, thus placing me in the part of the plane where I am statistically most likely to survive a catastrophic incident. Naturally, it has nothing to do with wanting to shove all the whiteys to the back where we won’t upset the order of things.

So it was with surprise that on this flight we found ourselves in row 4 – and Brett, our traveling buddy, in row 3 – until we were safely on the tarmac; then, it made complete sense.

Our bags emerged early, so I had to politely carve a path through the vainly waiting masses to retrieve them, before we headed out to find our transfer.

We’d been informed beforehand that our guy would be holding a sign with my name on it – which we were hopeful would make this part of the journey smoother than our previous transfers. At 50 Euros, we’d definitely paid for it.

But alas, when we did ultimately emerge, our man was nowhere to be seen.

There were a number of signs, but most of them bore extremely Turkish names, which were definitely not for us.

But that didn’t stop a couple of them, who were quite insistent we become the people on their signs, presumably because of all the places we’d want to end up in the five major cities around here, we’d be heading the same place he is. And to hell with the guys he was actually dispatched to collect.

One driver, in particular, was repeatedly insisting that we travel with him, despite the fact that I’d already told him that he was looking for somebody else. The third time he approached, insisting that we look again at his sign and, presumably, agree that we adopt those personas, I felt compelled to tell him that not only was he not looking for us, but believe it or not, I am capable of recognizing my own name. But thanks for the vote of confidence in my cognitive abilities.

I’m just perplexed. Taking it to its logical conclusion, we say “sure, that’s good enough”, he takes us to a hotel 200km away from where we’re booked, the people he’s supposed to pick up are stranded at the airport not knowing what on earth happened, but ruing the fact that they had been so organized, yes so let down. Then, presumably, it comes back on him a little bit for not verifying that we are who he told us to be…I don’t see an upside.

After the crowd thinned out a bit, maybe 15 minutes later, our guy finally appeared, with the telltale sign that actually displayed my name, and not some approximate Turkish equivalent.

We walked across to the car park, where we waited while he fetched his pimped-out mid-1990s Toyota Camry, with a full faux carbon fiber roof – and, as seems to be the done thing in Turkey – no seat belts.

So we scream out of there, accelerating up to 110km at the breakneck speed of about 37 seconds onto the highway. The drive itself is fascinating and spectacular – the landscape of Cappadocia is like nothing else in the world. The driving, on the other hand, is not so stunning.

But we didn’t die, despite the heavy rain, so that’s nice.

Our driver spoke zero English, so the conversation in the car was minimal; Mel slept, Brett watched a second-rate zombie movie in the front. And we drove – and drove – and drove.

At one point, we suspect we missed an important turn. I’m no detective, but three factors lead me to this conclusion:

– One, we passed a bit highway sign, at which point the driver braked hard, squinted at the sign, his face belying a significant amount of confusion, before speeding up again and continuing on.

– Two, the drive Google Maps had budgeted at one hour, 59 minutes clocked in at closer to two and a half hours, despite driving about Google’s anticipated speeds for, well, the entire journey.

– Three, about two hours into the drive, our guy pulled into a supermarket car park, ran in and came out with a can of iced tea and a chocolate bar for each of us. A lovely gesture, to be sure. But could it not have also been hush money? I’ll leave that up to you to decide…

So we did make it to our hotel without incident, where we were swarmed by helpers and taken to check in.

This is where our confusion really started.

The check-in staff started tallying up the cost of our stay in Euros, adding the transfer and then asking if we’d like to pay now or after the stay.

We’d booked through Booking.com – I didn’t think we had to deal with that messiness, but in any case have you ever paid for your room at reception before seeing it? That struck me as strange. Not that we had much of a choice of where to stay in any case; this is one hell of a tiny town. But I’ll get to that.

We elected to pay at the conclusion of our stay.

The hotel itself is as impressive as it is unique; the well-appointed rooms ancient caves carved out of the rock, like so much of the landscape around us. We have a front porch with a spectacular view across the valley and it’s really peaceful and quiet.

The location, in this sense, is absolutely priceless.

The furnishings are comfortable, the natural insulation is, of course, excellent and the rooms are clean.

The hard stuff they do really well – the infrastructure, I mean, people literally carved holes in a rock face to create this place. Safe to say, that’s one hard part. They then attracted guests here from all over the world, that’s hard as well.

But the easy stuff is where they chronically, and sadly, fall down.

For one, you can’t drink the water here but no bottled water is supplied. That’s unusual, but not a huge deal; we’d typically prefer to boil our own anyway, since it’s saving the plastic. Here, we’re really struggling to do that because we’ve got a two cup kettle that we need to wait to cool down before we can half-fill one bottle.

There is (allegedly) Wi-Fi in the rooms, but the signal is so weak that it’s completely unusable. There are few surfaces through which Wi-Fi signals do not travel well, and rock is most certainly one of them. So despite the fact that we’re four meters from a router we need to go outside to connect to the internet. Presumably they would know this, but choose to do nothing about it, despite the fact that it would be relatively easy to place a router in each room (there aren’t many).

The water is warm, but does not get hot enough for a comfortable shower; a big letdown, when you’re essentially bathing in a massive stone bathroom sarcophagus with no shower curtain. You really want that water to be warm and welcoming.

We have a spa bath, but the tap doesn’t extend far enough from the wall to actually deposit water in the tub. Instead, it fires directly onto the flat ledge, where the seal is worn away such that the water then trails back down the wall, under the bath and through the other side, leaving a torrent of water that flows diagonally across the bathroom floor and pools around behind the toilet.

Yesterday, I filled the bath for Mel with the handheld shower head, and made it warm enough by boiling our puny ass kettle four times and adding that in. Do they really think I care less about that than I do about the 20-odd teabags they left in our room when we arrived, or the lovely, but extremely bizarre, fruit platter we received at about 9.30pm, after we’d already brushed our teeth?

It seems to mostly boil down to an emphasis on the wrong things; by focusing so much on hard, but ultimately unimportant, things, they fail to grasp the easier, but more highly valued (or at least more annoying when they aren’t done right) things. Terrible sentence structure, but you get my drift.

For instance, when we were being shown to our rooms Brett was taken into no fewer than 4 rooms and told he could pick any of them. They were all similar and he didn’t really care which they put him in.

So much effort on something that matters zero, but then today they didn’t bother to service either of our rooms; in our books, far more important – considering the towels are not drying in this weather.

I haven’t even mentioned the main instigator of this particular element of the rant; the restaurants.

Oh, the restaurants.

So we are staying in what essentially boils down to a rambling complex of hotels, all run by the same people, each quite small and sharing some facilities, like the reception and two restaurants. One restaurant has a ‘buffet style’ setup, while the other, near our room, is ‘a la carte’.

Upon our arrival yesterday, we were quite exhausted – as you might imagine, after the very early morning and the very interesting drive. So we decided to try out the close restaurant. We were the only guests there at this time, about 12.30pm and we were met before long by a waiter with a workable command of English.

Usually, our issue is with our allergies and the confusion that creates for people; not so in this case. In this case, what we encountered was, quite simply, a good old-fashioned display of gross incompetence.

We were given 10 set menus from which to order, each comprising a soup, main, salad, dessert and one or two side dishes. Mel and I picked one each. Brett, who has been suffering heavily as a vegan in this country, had to settle for a salad (that’s cucumber, lettuce and tomato – neat) and a beer.

So we waited, and waited, and waited.

Eventually, after more than an hour, we received our salads.

The meal continued at this pace until finally, more than two hours after arriving, we managed to get out of there. The food was pretty good, but one wonders how on earth a two hour window could be deemed ok, when you are the only ones in the restaurant.

And Brett never did get his beer, either.

It’s perplexing; there were at least 4 people working.

I almost forgot the cats! There is a family of three stray cats that just hangs around, begging you for food and then jumping up on the tables once guests leave to pick at scraps. Apparently, at this hotel, that’s cool.

Perhaps needless to say, after that particular experience, we decided we’d give that place a miss from then on.

Come dinner time, Brett and I decided to explore the town a little – find something to eat and bring something back for Mel. Good plan.

So we roamed up and down the street; for a small town, they have a ridiculous number of convenience stores – more ridiculous when you consider the fact that they all sell the same stuff (we checked – it’s very hard to find anything resembling nutritious food as a vegan here).

Brett having given up on warm food and resigned himself to an evening of pretzels and nuts, I entered what looked to be the most hygienic restaurant in town (by far), assuming I’d be able to get a cheap take away meal – the front window certainly indicated this would be a possibility, advertising meals for 5 Lira ($2).

Of course, once I received my order and went up to pay, 5 Lira had magically expanded into 14 Lira. I don’t mind a little bit of a tourist tax sometimes (ok, I totally resent it), but this smacked of exploitation. But what could I do? We had to eat something. So, of course, I grudgingly paid and again, I determined that I wouldn’t go back.

So it was that tonight, we decided to go for the second hotel option – the buffet restaurant. For the same price (9 Euros), we are allegedly entitled to a delicious spread of food that is suitable to meat eaters and vegans alike.

So you might imagine our abject disappointment when we stepped off our tour bus after a very long day exploring (I’ll get to that) only to discover the restaurant had decided not to open.

Even the hotel staff who had taken us on the tour seemed confused; that is not a good sign when you’re meant to be running a business.

But they didn’t care. They just said “try the other restaurant”.

You know, the cat dungeon.

So, I am disappointed and ashamed to admit, we did exactly that – went back to give the ‘a la carte’ restaurant another chance – one that is chronically did not deserve.

And we were not disappointed.

By that, I mean we were extremely disappointed; so much so that we are hoping that the pathetic level of organization among the staff there will result in the food not making its way onto our bill. We will see.

I didn’t think it was possible for the service to eclipse the experience of last time in just how unbelievably bad it was, but they managed to surprise us all – and then some.

To begin with, I’d like to reiterate that the restaurant, which comprises one small room, with one external door, has a cat problem. Art any one time, between two and four cats have the run of the place – meowing and jumping and generally irritating anyone who doesn’t have a misguided (and frankly sick) appreciation for stray cats at the dinner table.

I don’t blame the staff for the existence of the cats, but it would have been nice if they’d made some attempt at shooing those annoying, disease-ridden rests out of there. But apparently it’s cool to have feral animals doing whatever the hell they want inside your restaurant here.

But that’s not even the biggest problem.

No, the biggest problem was that – and we didn’t believe this was possible – the service actually eclipsed the first visit in just how abysmal it was. This was a demonstration of incompetence beyond comprehension.

I’d like to point out at this juncture that when we entered the restaurant there was one other couple there eating, for a total of 5 patrons.

About 15 minutes after we ordered, another couple arrived. That made it seven. Now, I know seven is higher than five, and it’s a prime number – so that could in theory add some difficulty for people, but then again, 5 is also prime, as are 1,2 and 3, so I don’t think it’s much of an excuse here.

Bearing in mind that the only reason we were in this restaurant in the first place was that the other option was inexplicably and unforgivably closed, you will no doubt sense my frustration in the paragraphs to follow.

As before, we had the option of 10 ‘set menus’, which mostly differed in the main meal portion, but which differed from the food everywhere else in no significant respect.

In general the food is lovely but it’s the formula that kills me. How about a soup other than lentil soup, guys? Would it kill you to try something just a little different?

But anyway… We made our selections; I opted for barbecued beef, Mel for its chicken equivalent.

Brett, still stung from his flavorless salad experience last time, caved and ordered a $5 bowl of chips as a supplement to his salad order, meaning he only spent $2 less than us, but had to forego not only the main meal, but also the soup and the dessert that we were scheduled to receive (can you see where this is going already? I bet you think you can…).

The salads arrive, and all looks good. We even got a couple of side salads that were a little different this time; something involving carrots and some sour cabbage.

Not too long after, the first of three of our portions of chips arrive.

Not knowing for whom they are earmarked, we all shared in their spoils, pending the arrival of the other food.

Around 20 minutes later, my main meal arrived – as advertised – some barbecued squares of beef and rice.

And Mel waited, and waited.

And waited some more, just for good measure.

I could see the fury and frustration rising in her eyes; every time the little door opened, we all looked up hopefully, expectantly, only to be disappointed time after time with our waiter delivering spoils for the other tables. I offered to go out and ask, as I think is my duty as not only the husband, but the party who’s finished his food for ten minutes already, but Mel decided to go herself. She’s much better at restaurant confrontations than me, so this arrangement did make a lot of sense.

By this point, she’d been waiting over an hour for 5 barbecued chicken wings and some rice; in a restaurant with seven patrons and a minimum of three staff members.

Evidently, her little visit to their pathetic excuse for a working kitchen (we never saw anyone actually working) did have an effect, because she returned and no more than 45 seconds later, her food did in fact arrive.

But still, we were down two servings of chips.

So we reminded the chap that we’re missing chips (noting that Brett actually needed food, having once more boarded the salad train to the town of Starvation (Population: 1)).

With a typical dismissive platitude, he disappeared to – we were assured – check into progress on that front.

Upon his return, brandishing a fresh plate of chips we thought, finally, that we’d had something go right. That is, until he bypassed us expressly, handed the platter to the Turkish couple who arrived after we ordered, and then proceeded to inform us that the chips were “no more”.

Fantastic. Fantastic freaking bull crap. We pressed the point, but he threw up his arms in resignation and made himself very scarce very quickly, presumably to avoid having to deal with either us or the people in the kitchen.

So we had no recourse, naturally, because we had the ‘set menu’, but no doubt when we check out tomorrow Brett will be on the hook for the beer from the first night, and the chips from the second, which both disappeared into a cloud of pathetically bad service.

Nonetheless, we looked on the bright side, focusing on the absurdity of the whole situation, which was a lot more fun than moping about or getting angry.

This also made the next twenty minutes tolerable, as we sat and waited for our promised fruit platters.

When it became evident that, not only was our fruit not coming, but the waiters had decided to avoid returning to the restaurant altogether (to avoid some kind of confrontation about chips? I’ll leave it up to you to speculate), we decided to just pull up stumps and leave.

What a delightful meal, in sum; salad, plain beef and rice, hour-late chicken and rice and a 1/3 portion of chips. No soup, dessert, or remaining 2/3 of the chips. At least Brett got his beer this time, I suppose.

The real shame in all this is that we actually liked the place initially; we had a very positive first impression and Mel and I were considering staying another 4 days. But owning to all these little things that they just repeatedly screw up – and don’t seem to see as problems – there is no way we could tolerate it.

Such a shame.

But is it a reflection on the country? I think, a little bit, yes. Because all these problems, as well as the attitude that goes with them, seem to stem from laziness.

When we left that restaurant, obviously annoyed and disappointed (owing to having received only parts of our promised meal) and early (they must have realized we hadn’t received our fruit platter – because, presumably, they would have had to prepare it), we walked directly past the kitchen and looked in.

What we saw was, in fact, exactly what we’d expected to see – the cook and the main waiter, sitting down in chairs next to a desk, each playing on their iPhones.

The waiter looked up at us momentarily, clearly recognized the hollow defeatism in our eyes, and promptly fixed his attention back upon his phone without so much as a “have a nice night”.

Just quietly, if I were helping to run a restaurant (in any capacity) and it only received seven patrons, I would be working very hard to ensure they have a good experience and hopefully come back – because without us, it was only four – and that’s a dire situation. I’d sooner go back to the main street rip off restaurant before returning there; sure, you pay too much but at least you get what you order.

Which brings me back to the laziness point; I find it hard to conclude otherwise but to say that if these guys had a bit of a higher care factor, they wouldn’t run such a half-assed operation.

It would be impossible.

If they spent just five minutes a day thinking through the guest experience, there is no way that experience would be so haphazard and unpredictable.

Last night, when we went to reception to request some new towels (ours hadn’t been able to dry in the damp weather), Mel started with “because our room wasn’t cleaned yesterday, we need some new towels please”. Perhaps I’m more attuned to her passive aggression, but I would think a normal person would infer that she was disappointed by that particular state of affairs.

His response? A very huffy one. Rather than engage on the topic of room cleaning (it won’t be serviced at all this stay, that much is clear) he merely asked, in a rather curt fashion, “how many and what’s your room number?”

The solution, apparently, was to send his gopher to our room (which is about 200m away) to avoid our having to wait two minutes for the towels to be fetched. It’s such a strange thing; that it’s easier for him to waste his resources like that than to just be a nice guy in the first place. We wouldn’t mind waiting (in fact, we’d prefer that to wasting 10 minutes of someone else’s time), but in order to get us to bugger off and allow him to get back to his TV show he’d happily make that sacrifice.

Ah, well. I started out confused, I continue to be confused.

We’ve decided to extend our stay in Cappadocia, primarily because we love the quality of the air out here – we feel like we can breathe far better than in Istanbul.

But we’ll be shifting hotels. I’ll surely write about any wacky stuff that happens there because, well, it’s fun. I’m not a complainer by nature. I’m really not. I was about to start my next sentence with ‘but’, and then I caught myself.

I’m not a complainer by nature – however, I do enjoy a good rant here and there.


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