August 9, 2014

Taksim to Finike: McDonald's, Mini-Busses, and ELJ

Jena's translation: Awesome start to your day

Big? No. Breakfast? Yes.
Today, I ate at Turkish McDonald’s twice.

Just writing that makes me shudder, cringe, feel shame, wonder about my arteries, etc. Both times were in the airport. The first time was on purpose—to try the Turkish version of a Big (Mc)Breakfast: scrambled eggs, olives, feta cheese, an English muffin, and of course çay. Honestly, I really just wanted to take a picture for my brother Sam because I think he would like it. I needed breakfast, Mickey D’s was there, and the price was right. Well, as right as an airport price can be. The breakfast was neither very flavorful, nor was it big by any stretch of the imagination, but it was much-needed nourishment before what would be another epic Jena-Alan travel adventure.

The day actually began in the Taksim area of Istanbul, a city of around 25 million people (did you catch that? 25 MILLION—It’s so big I can’t even wrap my mind around it). Alan and I hauled our bags over cobblestone streets for 20 minutes to the airport shuttle pick up area. I found this low-cost and convenient service on Google, and Alan and I had scouted the location the day before so that we wouldn’t get lost on the real trip. The ride to the airport, though long and traffic-ridden, was easy enough. Airport check in at Istanbul’s smaller airport was a breeze, and even going through security was easy. We were off to a good start.

McDonald’s meal #1 happened after security. Yum. Sort of.

Our flight was scheduled for 12:15 on a cheapy budget airline. Torrential downpours of rain enlivened the gate waiting area about 11:00. Then, like the wicked witch, everything started to melt. Not literally, but in the sense that western Turkey’s airports all seemed to be crippled by the storm. First, we were notified of a 45-minute delay for our flight. Fair enough. Clearly the weather is bad.

Alan and I queued up again with the masses after 45 minutes, only to stand unmoving for 20 minutes before someone announced an additional 45 minute wait. I made a snack run during which I heard a very angry Romanian (maybe?) man berate a Turkish gate agent in the hallway. Something about how he and his family had been stuck in the airport since the previous night. I know how that goes—many travelers do. The part that got scary was when the angry man said in English, “No! Look at my face! Look at my face and tell me that you don’t know where my plane is!” The rage was palpable as I snuck by, headed for the nearest simit and çay stand.

In my field, English as a lingua franca (comically abbreviated as ELF) is discussed as a main reason for people in countries where English is NOT the official language to learn English. As a so-called lingua franca, English serves as a common language between speakers of other languages.

For me as an English teacher in Turkey, the ELF trend means job security. However, in some domains (e.g., airports and city streets) it seems like English as a lingua jerka is a more accurate depiction. With English as the common language, uncomfortable shouting matches in stressful places like airports are intelligible to many more people, including me.

As soon as our pastries devoured, a nearby Turkish-Austrian used German to tell me that our plane was now scheduled for 3:00.

Not that we really had any actual plans to be messed up by the delay, but Alan and I were trying to coordinate a few more transportation modes to get to our final destination before dark.

Helpful Turk-Austrian advised us that we could actually “redeem” our late flight for free food at McDonalds. Who were we to say no? We headed up to the bustling counter and stood there until we figured out what to say to whom. I can’t sugar coat this experience—it was disorganized and chaotic. Turks don't seem big on standing in lines. The mob formation seems to be more normal here. In any case, there’s nothing like a free burger, fries and room temperature flat soda to soothe the irritated passenger. McDonald’s meal #2 was not exactly on purpose, nor was it very delicious, but it was free. I still had to shudder a little that we ate there not just once, but twice. As Alan (or I) might say, I shudder about eating McDonald's “on principle.”

In the interest of not missing our flight, we transferred the steaming, greasy food to our backpacks somehow and went back to our gate. Just in time for the show, apparently. Angry Romanian man’s wife was verbally assaulting another helpless gate agent who was trying to get out of the area. Literally screaming at him for several minutes (remember English as a lingua jerka?), she made quite a scene. She even started shoving him, at which point, he scurried away yelling “Policeman!” Suddenly distraught and embarrassed, she slunk back to her waiting family who consoled the obviously exhausted woman. Alan and I had nearly finished our fries as we watched this disturbing tussle erupt and subside.

We did eventually get on the plane and after a very short flight, landed in Antalya, the population base of southern Turkey. It’s kind of a blur how we managed to find the minibus to the Otogar (bus station), and frantically catch the last minibus to our destination, but we made it, and even made a quick phone call to the person hosting us at our final destination. There are certain powers at be that either smile or don’t on weary travelers. Something smiled on Alan as he dialed that last time, just a minute or two before the minibus peeled out of the parking lot. He arranged the time to meet our renter, then ran out to the waiting mini bus.

Dear reader, I’m afraid to bore you with details, but I can’t help myself. Things are just too interesting to me not to share with you.

One challenge of the minibus ride to Finike, our destination, was that getting off of the minibus is something of an art. You can kind of get off anytime, as long as you know what to say (clearly we don’t) or your driver knows where to drop you. Banking on the latter, Alan tried to ask the driver early in the trip, but the driver seemed preoccupied and not very willing to put up with out foreignness. The worst-case scenario was that he would drop us off at the Finike Otogar and we’d find a way to get to our place from there. Because I wasn’t ready to walk 2 kilometers in the dark with my super heavy suitcase and backpack, I mustered the courage to approach the driver at the rest stop, Alan’s hand-drawn map in hand. I smiled in such a way that probably conveyed, “Yep, this will be awkward, but aren’t I so charming??” I sat next to him and his friend, and began with a few Turkish niceties. We then studied the map together, consulted an additional map I had saved to my iPad, and then he called Fırat to double check the directions and arrange a time for us to be dropped off. SCORE!! I mean, there are little victories, and then there are awesome victories. Skipping out on a long, dark walk without clear directions—MAJOR victory. Good job Jena’s Turkish and foreigner charm. I was really proud when we were dropped off literally directly in front of our apartment with Fırat waiting to help with our bags. Perfection.

Plus, once you get off of a super cramped minibus where your knees have become one with seat in front of you against your will, bouts of severe motion-induced nausea have forced you to desperately administer your last dose of Dramamine, and the air temperature has been about 10 degrees too hot---pretty much everything else looks like paradise.