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A short trip to Antakya

TURKEY | Friday, 9 December 2011 | Views [2745]

This is what overnight buses do to you.

Overnight bus number 2 took us to Antakya, 55 miles from the Syrian border. Reading the guidebook, we were charmed by the writer's conviction that Antakya was the 'Jewel of the Mediterranean'. This was our first experience with Steve Fallon, who authored the Eastern and Western Mediterranean sections of our Lonely Planet, so we hadn't yet realised that Steve's perspectives and reality did not quite match (poor Steve Falloon got a lot of a bashing over the next week or so, as his hopelessly wrong assurances and extravagant praise for things not really worthy of it made our travels just that little bit more unpredictable)

Arriving at 6am we discovered Antakya is a big, dusty city and not very jewel-ish at all. We'd planned to have one or two nights there but our first hour of walking through the loud hustle and bustle of the local bazaar and getting hopelessly lost with little sleep meant our first impressions were not great. In Antakya's defence we were dropped off by the free bus in the rough area of town and other areas were much nicer, but by the time we realized that, Antakya had lost its chance to enchant us. We strode out bleary eyed in boiling sun and as would become routine for us, began viciously arguing about the map. Our main reason for coming to Antakya was its Archaeological Museum, which has the best preserved mosaics in the world.

As would also become routine for us, we misinterpreted the map and walked around for ages, confused by long roads with roundabouts and both growing to detest every single aspect of the other person. Taking a break in a park, both of us craving sleep, we decided to get on yet another bus and push onto our next destination after visiting the mosaics museum, not having booked accommodation for that night. Whilst I guarded the backpacks, Jackson went off to find someone who could give us directions (very few people speak English in Antakya. It's not really a tourist destination and was worlds away from Cappadocia and Istanbul, where everyone seems to be fluent in 8 languages) He found someone who told us where the museum was - miles away from where we were, naturally - and that it wouldn't open for another two hours.

If there's a map of a place in Turkey, you can guarantee Jackson and I have read it wrong

Jackson suggested giving up on the mosaics and just jumping on a bus. Tempted by the prospect of sleep, I stood firm and insisted we do the mosaics. Suspicious of the late opening hour, we double checked and discovered it was open and that the museum staff were happy to watch our backpacks. Suddenly energised by the amazing things we saw, I really enjoyed the museum and spent ages gazing at all the incredible mosaics and reading all the displays, glad I'd insisted on going. Poor Jackson couldn't summon up the amount of enthusiasm and spent our entire visit sleeping on some seats, only waking occasionally to groggily ask if I was done yet. It would be fair to say Antakya was not one of Jackson's highlights of the trip.

I got him to a pizza place and placated him with promises of at least two nights in our next place. While both of us could quite frankly think of nothing worse than getting on our third long distance bus in 18 hours, we found a bus office and spent an entertaining twenty minutes jabbing at our Lonely Planet language guide to communicate with the lovely but non English speaking workers. Turkey's bus system is so well developed that most bus companies operate servis, a free shuttle that will take you to the normally out of town otogar (bus hub) After many back and forths, we established there was no servis available before our next bus left.

One of the lovely ladies escorted us outside and while we stood there smiling with no real idea of what was going on, after ten minutes she flagged down a minibus and gave the driver instructions on where we needed to go. The driver seemed resistant to us getting on, at one point attempting to drive off while we were still getting in. Fair enough I thought. There's already quite a few people in there and they probably have a maximum number of passengers. Oh how I laugh at my naivety. Once the bus lady verbally bitchslapped the driver and forced him to let us on (me next to an obese man in the front row with my backpack on my knees, Jackson in the back crammed into a row designed for 3 with 5 people in it and no leg room for 6'3 legs) we stopped and managed to cram in at least another six passengers in the already full van. It got to the point where the passengers, clearly used to this, rearranged themselves so younger boys getting on could sit in the laps of older men and multiple ladies squatting in the door entrance. Our backpacks had clearly been the reason the driver was so resistant to letting us on, as I'm sure he saw them as preventing another good 8 or so passengers joining the crush.

I think our van had a few more people than this one

Eventually we were let off, which required half of the van to dismount and we trooped through the mud, with the entire van waving and pointing where we needed to go, adjusting to the sensation of being able to feel our legs again. One more wait at an otogar, which we were old hands at by now. I went to the bathroom and the old man manning the admissions booth very kindly refused to accept my 1 lira, telling me through hand gestures it was his gift to me. I mentioned in my last blog how Jackson and I had been slightly off put by rudeness and feeling like walking wallets in Istanbul and Cappadocia but once we got out of the tourist hotspots we found so many kind and generous people who went out of their way to be nice, fully restoring our faith in Turkish hospitality.

Tags: antakya, archeological museum, bus, hatay, local transport, mosaics, sleep deprivation, turkey


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