By , December 3, 2012 12:52 pm

Turkey is different from Western European and North American countries in a lot of ways. That’s why it’s been so fun for us to visit. Here’s just three examples from Istanbul of how we were treated to a level of hospitality far greater than what we’ve grown to expect more westernized places.

1. The Bookstore

We came to Turkey wanting to walk the Lycian Way, but we knew little to nothing about it. Naturally we were quite intent on finding a guidebook and reading up on what to expect a little before we got started. For most of one morning, Ashley and I strolled through the outdoor stores, and several English bookstores looking for an English copy of the guidebook. We weren’t having any luck.

Sometime around 12:00 pm we wandered into a small store located down a flight of stairs on a side street just off Istiklal Caddesi. At a quick glance we could tell that this was actually a Turkish Bookshop, not an English one. We were about to back ourselves up the stairs when the owner piped up and asked if he could help us. We explained what we were looking for, and he informed us that he didn’t have it. Then he made us an offer. He said that he would speak to all of the other bookstore owners who were his friends and find us a copy of the book if we would come back in 6 hours to purchase it. It seemed like a good deal, so we thanked him and said we’d be back.

Six hours later we returned to the same underground bookstore. The population of the store had increased slightly from earlier in the day. A small crowd of men were gathered around the desk. Some were in chairs, some were standing. All were involved in a discussion that neither of us could understand. There in the middle of it all was our man. The moment he saw us we could tell – by his expression and the way he started to blame everyone in the room – that he had forgotten all about our book.

He quickly apologized and offered us some tea. We began to tell them a bit about ourselves, and they told us a bit about themselves. When our tea was done our host asked if we wanted another. We politely declined at which time he responded by serving us coffee and stating, “I could tell your no was really a yes.”

At some point, the discussion turned towards street food and our host asked, “Are you hungry now?” By this time it was already 8:00 and we were a bit famished. He sent one of the other men out to the corner shop to bring back some traditional Turkish food for everyone, or so we assumed.

When the food arrived, we saw that they had only bought enough for us. Chickpeas and rice, bread, a tomato and bean soup, and a salty cucumber yogurt drink. After serving us, everyone got up and left so they wouldn’t be staring at us while we ate our meal.

“Now we just need to serve you a Turkish Coffee, and our mission will be complete.”

Before parting ways some 5 hours after arriving, we had learned a great deal about Turkey and what it’s like to live there. We had a tea, coffee, a meal, and a Turkish coffee all for free. We exchanged emails and phone numbers and were told that if we had any trouble, or needed anything while we were in Istanbul, we should not hesitate to give get a hold of them. Considering we didn’t spend a penny, I’d say that was some darn good hospitality.

2. A Man on the Asia Side

We took the ferry across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Turkey. After stepping off the ferry, we unfurled our map to get a bearing on where we were. Then we heard the all too familiar “Excuse me, Excuse me,” from what we assumed to be a crafty undercover salesman. You know the kind. First they make small talk, ask you where you’re from, then tell you about some store or tour you absolutely have to see.

But what he said next shocked us, “Can I help you with anything?” That was it. He genuinely just wanted to help us out. He had nothing to sell us, and was only being kind. He helped us figure out where we were, and gave us some tips on what we could see nearby.

3. Fast Food Bathroom Attendant

Here’s one of our dirty little secrets. In both Central America and Europe, public bathrooms generally cost money. Washrooms at fast food chains however are generally free for paying customers. We however have no scruples against sneaking into a chain restaurant’s bathroom and sneaking out without spending a dime. But it doesn’t always work. If you get caught, you are either denied entrance to the bathroom or forced to make a purchase.

It looked like things were headed that way for us when Ashley was stopped by one of the employees on the second floor of a fast food doner shop. He knew that we weren’t customers, and we knew that he knew. The moment was tense for just a split second until finally he said, “Toilet. Upstairs,”  and pointed us to the stairs.  We did our business and left. No questions asked.

These are just a few examples of the different hospitality we’ve noticed in Turkey that we have not seen anywhere else. The Turkish people are doing a very good job making us like them and their country.

By , November 29, 2012 7:22 am

There’s an old Turkish proverb that says coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.  Naturally, that’s what Turkish coffee is.

Mike and I were never coffee drinkers before we left home.  I would have the occasional half-coffee, half-hot chocolate but that was about it.  Mike wouldn’t touch the stuff.  Somewhere in Austria that started to change.  By the time we were living in Bulgaria, I was drinking a coffee or two a day, and even Mike was frequenting the local cafe for a freshly brewed Americano.

So it was only natural that we embraced the concept of “When in Turkey, drink Turkish coffee.”  We didn’t expect to like it so much.

In Istanbul, a cup of Turkish coffee will run you between 3.50 and 5 lira (about $2-$2.80 CAD).

Coffee shop in Istanbul

To make it in the traditional method (to the best of my understanding, anyways), fine coffee grinds and sugar are added to cold water in a small copper vessel, which is then heated slowly over charcoal.  Once the grinds start to sink, the drink is stirred to mix it and to create a foam on the top.  Once heated, it is poured in a small cup and served.

Preparing Turkish coffee

The coffee is thick, sweet, bitter, and almost nutty.  It is served very hot, and continues to steep in the cup.  When finished, the bottom of the cup is thick with grounds.

The thick sludge at the bottom of the drink

It is quite popular to have your fortune told from your grinds… we, of course, did a little fortune telling for each other.

A heart and a butterfly

Not sure exactly what a fortuneteller would read into this one, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know… scary little guy

Obviously a pig dog and oversized gerbil fight is in our future


What do you see in these grinds?

By , November 22, 2012 8:08 am

This post is about long distance overland travel; part of our healthy, road weary diet. Sure, we could always hop on a plane, but that’s just not cost effective. After 500 and some days on the road, we’ve come to realize that when it takes 9 hours or more to get from point A to point B night travel is the way to go. Our rational should be obvious. We save on a nigh’ts accommodation,and, as an added bonus, we arrive at our destination in the morning. Always preferable to arriving somewhere unfamiliar late in the evening.


Trains are the king of overnight travel. Spend the couple of extra dollars (literally) and make sure you get yourself a bed. We took the overnight train between Belgrade, Serbia and Sofia, Bulgaria. It was bliss. We were given a shared berth with 6 beds. We lucked out and ended up with 4 English speaking teachers. We stayed up late drinking wine (which you are allowed to bring on the train with you),comparing travel tales and talking about the differences and similarities between the North American and European educational systems. Ashley was a high school math teacher before we left home, so she was right at home with the topic.

The beds were actually quite comfortable. Surprisingly they were even long enough for me to stretch out on, and I’m 6′ 1″. That’s more than I can say for half the dorm beds I slept in in Spain. The room was well ventilated, and the train was way smoother starting, stopping, and switching cars than I could have imagined. I slept like a baby and didn’t get up until 6:00 AM when we went through the Bulgarian border crossing. We didn’t even have to leave our room, the border guard came right to our door, stamped our passports, and wished us a good night’s sleep. A few hours later we arrived in Sofia well rested and in good spirits.

The room

I fit!

Some nice scenery before falling asleep.

About to arrive in Sofia


In Central America, overnight buses were always 1st class buses. The seats reclined slightly, but were still uncomfortable. The A/C was blasted so high that despite the fact that the ambient temperature outside was almost 30°C, wearing long pants, a sweater, and a fleece jacket was a requirement. The good news is that once we left the bus terminal, the lights went out and the bus didn’t stop again until morning. So we had a chance to try and sleep.

In Eastern Europe, the buses are a bit fancier. There’s usually a TV in the back of every seat, and most of them have wi-fi on board. Surprisingly, night time tea and coffee service seems to be the norm. The bathrooms onboard don’t seem to work, so the bus stops every couple of hours to let people out at a rest station where they can pay for the privilege of relieving that midnight coffee. It seems the idea is not to sleep on these overnight buses. I don’t really understand that.

Either way, all the overnight buses we’ve taken have one thing in common. They are incredibly uncomfortable, you don’t sleep, and you arrive worn out and exhausted. If you are debating between the two, trains win every time.

Night Bus to Antalya


By , November 15, 2012 9:00 am

We thought we had our Bulgaria to Istanbul travel plans cased.  We booked our night bus from Veliko Tarnovo in advance, had the paper ticket in hand, and even had a friend to drive us from our village to the door of the bus station.  We knew our hostel name and address in Istanbul and pre-planned a splurge on a taxi so we wouldn’t have to navigate the chaos of a new city and country in the early morning hours.

But, several seemingly small things coalesced to make a seemingly easy night of travel an unrelenting comedy of errors:

1. A light drizzle the night before departure.  The light drizzle caused mud on the sidewalk by morning.  Mud on the sidewalk meant less friction for my sandal.  And less friction meant that, before I knew it, I was sprawled on the sidewalk with muddy jeans, a bruised leg and swollen hand.  This made packing a little tougher, but still manageable.  No big deal.

2. Worn shoes.  My shoes have been with me for every outdoor activity since the Yukon River in the summer of 2010.  Don’t forget that I walked 900 km across Northern Spain over concrete, asphalt, and rocky trails.  So they’re a little less grippy then they used to be.

Apparently, this can be a problem as you walk down bus steps in the pouring rain.  For the second time today I found myself sprawled out in pain. Luckily my elbow nobly broke the fall for my back, letting out a crack of glee that called out to every passenger on the bus.  Bruised and broken, I hopped up to save an ounce of dignity, grabbed my bag from under the bus, and cowered in the nearby bus station to avoid the line of eyes and noses pressed against the windows of the bus.  Still shocky, I was ushered into the tiny bus company office to get our tickets for the second leg of our journey.

3. A single digit.  Normally, the difference between 28 and 29 is not great.  Unless you’re travelling on the 29th of October and the guy at the bus station in Veliko Tarnovo booked your onward travel for the 28th.  As I sat in the tiny office, I was told by the agent that he expected us yesterday and there was no room on the bus for us today.  All of this was relayed in German, since we still didn’t understand Bulgarian.  While he made some calls, we stopped to assess the damage from my fall.  Mike was convinced I broke my laptop from the sound of the crack, but I assured him that it was my elbow that made that sound, not my electronics.  We pulled out the laptop, iPhone, and Kindle and they were all A-OK.  I felt a little better.  I took off my rainjacket and pulled up my sleeve to examine the brave little elbow.  By Mike’s expression, I knew it didn’t fare as well… turns out I managed to peel the skin off it through a wool sweater and Goretex rain jacket (pretty impressive I would say, since I didn’t even damage the jackets!).  Mike swore he could see bone.  The joint was swelling fairly quickly and I couldn’t bare the pain of touching it to see if the bone was intact.  We bandaged it up and sat back to wait.

4. A box full of water.  The agent returned with a smile on his face and told us “keine problem!”  He found us a bus leaving an hour later then the one we originally booked.  It was also full, but the staff agreed to find space for us.  I didn’t like the sound of that, but the idea of staying the night at the mostly closed bus station in the rain didn’t appeal to me either.  We paid full fare and waited.  When the bus arrived, its attendant ushered me on board and showed me my seat… Four (partially full) cases of water crammed in behind some seats.  Nothing like sitting sideways at a 45 degree angle for a 9 hour bus ride!  The bright side:  My sore elbow was on the high side, not the low one which required some elbow propping to achieve some semblance of comfort.

My seat for the night

5. Coffee service on a night bus.  Sounds good, right? This was our first experience with European night buses and we were pleasantly surprised to see them offer coffee, tea, water, juice, and soda.  However, every time someone ordered a coffee, Mike was required to move.  You see… his seat was not quite as luxurious as mine.  He got a newspaper and a cushion to sit on the steps of the back door.  Which is where the hot water was.

Mike’s settled into his staircase for the night.

6. A case of mistaken identity.  Arriving at the Bulgaria-Turkey border, we were told that we would have to buy a visa for about 15 bucks each.  No problem.  We were expecting this.  We had talked to quite a few British ex-pats that had made the trip and the price sounded about right.  The attendant navigated us across the multiple security booths and brought us to the visa office.  The man looked at our passports and asked for 15 USD each.  I pulled it out.  He looked at them again, then said… “Oh, Kanadski! Not Amerikanski… oh… wait…” He turns around, rifles through some papers, and finds the sheet of Canadian visa stickers.  Turns out they are 60 USD per person.  Unbeknownst to us, Canadians are required to pay 3-4 times as much as any other country to enter Turkey.  Yikes.

7. A broken ATM machine.  When our second bus was just two hours outside of Istanbul (the company managed to find us another bus parked at the same rest stop with some spare seats that was headed our way. We fell into a deep sleep the second our butts hit the seats.

When we finally arrived I was so sore, I could hardly get up.  We got our stuff together, grabbed our backpacks and found a taxi.  We showed him the address for our hostel and he said “OK.” We asked how much.  He said “40 lira.”  Thinking this was way too much, but too sore and tired to even haggle, we said “OK.”  We asked if he could stop at an ATM so we could take out some Turkish money.  He didn’t understand so we mimed the action while holding a debit card. “OK,” he said. We got in and he drove us along the bus terminal (which, if you’ve ever been at Istanbul’s main bus terminal is larger than most airports I’ve been at) and stopped at an ATM.  It was out of service.  We hopped back in and he drove us to a string of banks where I got our card to work, not on the first, but the second machine we tried (I’m pretty sure I was just putting in the wrong PIN at the first one in my sleep-deprived state).

We got back in the cab and our driver asked us where our hostel was.  He already had the paper with the address on it, so we pointed at it.  Obviously he wasn’t sure where that was.  He stopped and asked another cab.  Drove a little farther, and stopped to ask another.  He tried to call the hostel’s number but couldn’t get an answer.  Then, asked several more cab drivers on the street.  Phoned a friend.  Asked the audience. Oh… Google Maps, how handy you could have been here!

Finally, after something like an hour or more in the cab, he stumbled across our hostel and dropped us off at the door.  “50 lira,” he said.  “What?!? No way!”  It doesn’t matter how tired we were, we weren’t overpaying by that much.  He could have told us he didn’t know where the hostel was.  He could have actually turned on the meter in the front instead of quoting us a price.  He could have told us when we asked to stop at an ATM that he would charge more.  After a little yelling in the street, we paid him the 40 lira we rightfully owed and walked into our hostel.  Luckily, he didn’t follow us in cause he was mad.

To Sum Up:  We can certainly say our quiet little overnight trip to Istanbul was an adventure.  At the time of writing (12 days after the trip), I still have souvenirs from it: a black bruise on my thigh the size of a softball, two horizontal linear bruises on my back where it connected with the stairs, and a bruised elbow that I still can’t put pressure on.  But that’s part of travelling, isn’t it?  We survived and hey- it sure makes for a better story than we got on the bus, fell asleep, and woke up in Istanbul, doesn’t it?

By , November 12, 2012 12:14 pm

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posts to bring you this important update:

Ashley and I are embarking on another epic walk. This time we’ll be walking 509km along the Lycian Way. A coastal trail in Southern Central Turkey between the cities of Fethiye and Antalya.

View Lykian Way in a larger map

We’ll be carrying sleeping bags and a tent. We’ll also be leaving the laptops behind, so expect us to take longer than normal to reply to your comments and emails. We’ll have our iPhone with us so, as long as there is free wifi on the top of Mount Olympus, we will be able to sneak in the odd Facebook update or Tweet.

Meanwhile, a lot has happened since we left Bulgaria. Thanks to the magic of WordPress’ scheduled posts, those stories will be coming your way uninterrupted over the next 3-4 weeks. After that time, we’ll be back to tell you all about our walk.

Resuming regular transmission…

By , November 9, 2012 9:21 am

As you’ve no doubt heard, we purchased a house in Central Bulgaria. This does not signal the end of our travels. In fact, we’ve already left Bulgaria and are currently exploring the countryside of Turkey.

Now it’s all well and good for us to tell you that we bought a house, let you know how much it cost, gave some insights into Bulgaria’s bureaucracy, and showed you some pictures of our new pad. But I think it’s also important to explain why we want to live in Bulgaria.

Yes, you read that right. We want to live in Bulgaria. Contrary to popular belief, we do not make a habit of buying houses as a souvenir in every country we visit. Bulgaria is special. It’s a place we want to live, and that’s why we bought a house there.

All dollar amounts quoted in this post are $CAD, which at the time of this writing are approximately equal to $USD.

Bulgaria is Beautiful

Maybe I should rephrase the title of this section to something like “The Small Bit of Bulgaria We Actually Saw is Beautiful”. The truth is that despite living in Bulgaria for three months, we hardly travelled around at all. Bulgaria has a beautiful Black Sea Coast, mountains to ski and hike, and plenty of history on display in the form of monasteries and Roman ruins. But we didn’t see any of that stuff. I guess we decided to save it for another trip. The bits we saw are all nearby our own village, and we thought they were beautiful.

Veliko Tarnovo – River Residences

Veliko Tarnovo – Tsarevets Fortress

Emen – Canyon

Gorsko Kosovo Reservoir – A great place to swim and fish on hot days.

Bulgaria is Centrally Located

If you look on a map, you’ll see that Bulgaria borders Romania, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia. All places we want to see. Still within range of a night train/bus, you find Italy, Austria, Croatia, Slovania, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova, and the Ukraine. Wow.

Bulgaria is Connected

Even the small villages, like ours, have high speed internet access. So communication is no problem. But that’s not what I was getting at. What I find amazing is the fact that you can cheaply get  everywhere by bus/train. Our small village, for example, has a daily bus to and from the closest major centre, Pavlikeni. There we can do all of our shopping, or catch a bus/train to somewhere more exotic, like Turkey. And get this, the bus to Pavlikeni costs less than driving at only $2 each way.

Village Life is a Mix of City and Farm. As it Should Be.

City Life

  • You have neighbours to talk to.
  • There is a local store for your daily shopping needs.
  • A cafe & bar for those days you don’t feel like cooking.
  • Your streets will get plowed in the winter.
  • You have running water that you can drink from the tap.
  • And, of course, electricity.

Rural Life

  • You can buy fresh unpasteurized milk.
  • You can raise your own egg laying chickens (which, FYI, you can’t do within a village in small town Saskatchewan)
  • If you like, you can have goats, cows, horses, and sheep. You keep them in your yard at night, then send them out to public pasture with a local shepherd during the day. No need to buy your own pasture land.
  • You can grow your own cherries, grapes, peaches, apples, pears, walnuts, hazelnuts, blackberries, vegetables of all kinds, and much more. Anything you plant in this country has a habit of growing.
  • You get a big yard and privacy.

The Weather is Pretty Good:

The winters are shorter than they are in Canada by about a month on either side. There are heavy snows but there are also warm chinooks. It’s been known to hit positive 20 deg C on New Years Day, and a cold snap will only get as cold as -25 deg C.

Summers are fantastic (this is the only season we’ve personally experienced); Dry, not much for wind, temperatures between 30 and 40 deg C. I can’t imagine a better summer climate anywhere.

You Can Afford to Have a Drink

The beer is priced at a reasonable $0.70 for a 1L bottle. And it tastes not too bad. Wine is a bit more. A local vintage can be obtained 3L for $5. Better still, they’ve legalize distilling your own alcohol. And, since everyone grows their own grapes, there is a glut of hooch (officially called rakia). It’s tasty, and given away for free by nearly everyone. We’ll be making our own when we have a chance.

Actually, It’s Affordable All Around

We’ve already mentioned how much a house and land costs. If you missed it, you can catch up here. But it’s not just the housing and the booze. Food is also cheap, even if you are not growing it yourselves. Tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and fruit generally run $1 per kg or less while in season. Cheese is plentiful at about $3 per kg, and bread is about $0.50 per loaf. Property taxes are almost negligible (less than $100 per year), and water is less than $10 per month (depending on how much you use).

Of course some things are still expensive. For example, gasoline for your car is quite pricey, electricity is expensive, and wood for winter heating will still run you about $1,000 per year depending on how much heat you need. But these “expensive” items are priced comparably to everywhere else in the world. They are just expensive compared to how cheap everything else is.

So Why Aren’t We Living in Bulgaria Now if it is so Great?

A couple of reasons. First, we are not done travelling. Not by a long shot. Second, despite the low costs, we still need to figure out a way to generate an income before we can move to Bulgaria full-time. The country has a very high unemployment rate, and a very low average hourly wage. To make matters worse, neither of us speak Bulgarian, a fact that will severely limit our employment prospects until we can learn the language.

Although we’ve been quite successful thus far, it’s only possible to live on dreams and rainbows for so long. So until we work out how we are going to generate enough income to move full-time to Bulgaria, we won’t be living there full time.

What’s the Plan Then?

Like so many things, we just don’t know. Our first plan, is to eventually return to Canada and get jobs. We’ll work and save until we feel that we have enough money to make a go of it, then move to Bulgaria. It’s boring and old-fashioned, but there’s a proven track record of success. While we are saving up, we’ll visit our house when we can and do as much work on it as we can with the holiday time we are allotted.

Another option would be to relocate to Bulgaria and try to pick up seasonal winter work elsewhere. For example, we may try to spend our summers in Bulgaria enjoying our organic food, and low costs. When winter strikes, we’ll set off for a warmer country and work in the dive industry. It’ll mean another investment in courses to become instructors, but could be a enjoyable/sustainable way of making Bulgaria work now.

We’ve talked about working for a year teaching English in Japan or S.Korea. The idea being that we could save up enough money to live in Bulgaria for a couple of years before needing to undertake another year-long teaching gig. It has promise, but we are not sure if we’ll enjoy teaching English or not.

Finally, we could try to work in Bulgaria. It’s possible that Ashley could get a job as a teacher at an English school. But it probably wouldn’t be within commuting range of our home. I could try to earn an income online programming, or translating from Spanish into English, but that’s not fun either. Along the same lines, we could use our company to undertake some sort of business in Bulgaria. The big problem being that we’d be earning a Bulgarian wage. That would get us by, but we wouldn’t be able to save up for future travel. And it’s not just sightseeing that we would miss out on, we’d also be away from our friends and family back home without sufficient incomes to buy tickets to go back to Canada and visit. That would be hard.

So for now, and until further notice, the matter of fitting our Bulgarian house into our lives permanently remains unsettled. But we both really, really want to make it work.

By , November 6, 2012 12:37 pm

Here’s a little Bulgarian lesson for you…

Дa = Da = yes

He = Nay = no

Simple enough, right?  Wrong, my friend.  So very wrong indeed.

I thought that mastering the Cyrillic alphabet would be the biggest stumbling block to communicating in Bulgarian.  Of course, I was mistaken.  It was actually my neck that would get me in trouble.

For 27 years of my life, I understood that a nod of the head meant “yes” and a shake of the head meant “no.”  I was trained to believe this was universal and let me tell you, it’s now deeply ingrained.  So it was quite the shock to learn that this doesn’t hold true everywhere.

As you may have guessed… in Bulgaria, a nod means “no” and a shake of the head is “yes.”  We were quick to realize this fact as soon as we learned the words Дa and He.

Knowing a social convention and internalizing are two very different things, however.  When you see someone doing this…

… your brain doesn’t know how to process it.  Half the message is “yes” and half is “no”.  The visual and audio clues are perfect opposites and you end up perplexed.  Or at least I do.

And just try to say yes (or da) without nodding.  Or no without shaking your head. It’s about a thousand times harder than trying to pat your head with one hand while rubbing your tummy with the other.  Especially when those are two of the precious few words you can speak or understand.

I’ve heard lots of stories from British expats that have walked into a restaurant, asked if they had a table for four, and stood there waiting to go to their nonexistent seats after the hostess nodded.

Mike and I found ourselves in an unknown city looking to buy our Bulgarian car (which we later dubbed the “little red shitbox” – for obvious reasons).  We needed to find an English interpreter to help with the sale, but we didn’t know where to start.  We saw a sign for an information centre and walked in.  But it didn’t look at all like an information centre – there were no pamphlets, and the set-up was something like an accounting firm.  Mike asked, “Information?”  The woman behind the nearest desk shook her head.  We walked out.  About a block later, we realized she had actually said yes.  Oops.

Little Red Shitbox

How did we end up with this car? Mike shook his head and next thing we knew, it was ours!

You would think that after three months in the country, we’d get used to this, but it’s just too hard to master.

One of the last things we did before leaving our house in Bulgaria was to register the property with the municipal tax office.  We brought a Bulgarian friend along to translate, and fill out the 12 page form that reminded me of a university final exam.  When everything was signed and done, the tax official said, “Now all you have to do is come back next year and pay your taxes.”  To that, I nodded and walked out.  She was not impressed.