Bergama: amazing archaeology, night buses, and creepy Turkish men.

Yeah. I had to have a creepy experience with a Turkish man at some point.

But that was not the most important part of my weekend in Bergama, the most important part was Pergamum.

If you go to Pergamum, have at least three hours to devote to the acropolis alone, particularly if you are the kind of person who likes to wander around the lower city portions, because the site is huge and completely worth your time. On the very top, every single view is a panorama photo worthy view, and the site itself is really in great shape. Prepare to take a lot of pictures and sit in awe of pillars and walls and really old stone a lot. The theater was the main reason I went, as it looked huge and fantastic in pictures. It’s built into hills side at an extreme angle that made me very happy I’ve never had issues with vertigo before. As it was the low season, and Pergamum is generally not as popular or well known as Ephesus, the site was vacant except for the men working on the walkway and manning the ticket office.

Since I had taken the overnight bus in and had spent the morning finding a hostel and napping before going through the acropolis, I waited until the next day for the Asclepion so I would have enough time, and that was a good decision. It’s flat land instead of a hilltop, but it’s no less impressive. The Asclepion used to be a famous medical center where people would go on the theory that the baths and the springs were medically conducive to healing. Some of the ceiling of the baths is still intact as well as much of the floor, so wandering through it was a lot of fun for me. On top of that, it was just as empty as the acropolis and it was a warm, sunny day. Some of the pools were still intact and holding water, as well as a dozen or so frogs and a family of turtles. The theater was smaller, less imposing, but very nice, though obviously reconstructed a bit. It was one of the most exciting times I’ve had at a site since Rome.

After spending most of the morning there, I retrieved my bag from my hostel. I was catching another overnight bus, which I then bought the ticket for and grabbed lunch. I wasn’t looking forward to the bus, since the ride originally to Bergama had only been so comfortable. The wonderful thing about buses in Turkey is that there is one leaving for wherever you need to go, generally multiple buses a day, and the overnight buses are nice, because they take care of the 8 to 9 hour rides. The thing is, they make multiple stops a night at smaller towns or stations to let more people on or to let people off, and those stops are when I tend to wake up. That, coupled with the fact that being on a bus for too long is never fun and because it was a nice day, I decided to spend some time in a park outside the Red Basilica (which I would have gone in to if it had not been closed for renovation work). I actually got some good writing done, since it was such a nice day and since not many people were around. I killed a decent 2 hours, and was planning on killing another before getting dinner. This is where the creepy Turkish man comes in.

I had see him sit and talk to a few other men for awhile on the other side of the park before, which I think is why he came up to me, because he had seen me earlier and known I had been there a long time. He was wearing the typical older Turkish man outfit of more casual dress trousers, sweater, and jacket, and he had maybe four teeth. He knew no English, and my Turkish, which never went beyond pretty-okay-for-an-exchange-student-after-a-semester-of-practice, had at that point degenerated to functional-for-asking-directions-ordering-in-restaurants-and-making-approximately-45-seconds-of-small-talk-IF-the-other-person-knows-a-few-words-of-English. He also didn’t speak that clearly since, you know, the teeth issue. He sat down and after a few seconds of conversation offered to share some şarap with me. When he actually took the bottle of dry white out of the plastic bag, I remembered that “şarap” meant “wine.”

I should say right now that he was completely harmless. After traveling, you get some instincts for people, and the only thing this guy wanted to take advantage of was my time and he probably didn’t realize that I didn’t know enough Turkish to make conversation, so really, we were both sort of trapped in a situation where neither of us felt threatened enough to be impolite. Well. Mostly me.

It was right as he broke the cork trying to open the bottle that a young guy walked by and the man called to him. They talked for a minute, and I could tell enough that they didn’t know each other, but that he was calling on the guy, (kid really, I guessed18 or 19) to help him with the broken cork issue. He disappeared for a moment and came back with the problem solved and sat down on the decorative brick by the park fence with us. For this, I was extremely grateful, because he knew a little English, enough to translate to Wine Guy and fill the conversation gap. We exchanged names, occupations, ages, anything. I’m lied impulsively and said I was 25. I’m not really sure why, but I don’t regret the decision. I also played the totally-more-straight-edge-than-necessary-American act when I was repeatedly offered wine, saying that I didn’t drink because I didn’t like the taste and didn’t smoke and actually didn’t drink anything. The kid also refused (he was 18 and still in high school, so probably good for him), and after about 10 to 15 more minutes it was really glad, because the police showed up.

Two police officers came calmly up to Wine Guy and used firm voices. I had no idea what was being said and when I looked to the kid, he just mimed to be quiet so I tried to find the sky and grass as interesting as possible. I think one of the police officers noticed that I was uncomfortable after a moment and, turning to me, waved his hands and said, “No problem. No problem.” The kid said something in Turkish to the officer in question who then asked me where I was going, not unkindly. I told him the truth, that I was taking a bus that night to Istanbul, and said again, “Okay, no problem.” I stood up to test it. “No problem?” He chuckled at me. “No problem.” I said goodbye and went to find dinner, trying not to walk too quickly. To this day, I don’t know whether it was an open container issue or what.

Later that night I was perusing my Lonely Planet to figure out a plan for Athens, which I was leaving for in two days. There was a knock on the window which I was sitting against in the bus station. It was the kid. I felt somewhat constrained by politeness and gratitude for not leaving me alone with Wine Guy. He bought me a coffee and we set to exhausting what language we had in common while I wondered how to extricate myself from the 18 year old high schooler who had done me a favor but somehow thought himself fly enough to sit and flirt with a supposedly 25 year old American mechanic who had just asked what the word for boyfriend was so I could tell him about my American boyfriend (this was the picture that had been developed through the translation loss). After maybe half an hour, the man who had sold me my bus ticket came out to tell me the shuttle was there that I would take to the larger bus station where the bus to Istanbul was. I looked at my phone. It was 7:15. He had told me earlier the shuttle would leave at 8:15 since the bus didn’t leave until 9:30. The kid was on his phone, feigning nonchalance and the ticket man was eyeing him suspiciously. I saw an out and got on the bus. It stopped a good few blocks away at another ticket office where a few more people got on and the driver and the ticket man, who had come with us, went inside for a moment. A minute later, the kid was by the bus.

“I ran.” He said.
“Why did you run? Don’t run.” I said, as if running were bad for his health. I was creeped out by him more than I had been by Wine Guy. He had done me a favor, but he was canceling it out.
I could see the Turkish-man-bravioso coming out. He was 18 and I think in his head it went like the cover of a romance novel. Then the ticket man and the shuttle driver were back and, even though I couldn’t understand a single word, I could tell they were telling him off. It made me wonder whether the police hadn’t come up to Wine Guy on a different issue than an open container laws. Once the shuttle took off again, it didn’t stop until it got to the main bus station, a good 15 minute drive away. The bus was clean. There was a beverage service, the woman I sat next to knew enough English us to talk a bit; she was going to Istanbul to visit her daughter. All was well, and I got back into Istanbul at 7am. I sat in Sultanahmet and watched the sun rise over the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and a dog trotted up to me and sat with me for the full 30 minutes I was there. When. It was light enough, I walked the circuit around Topkapı palace and the water and cut through Gülhane park. I got back to the hostel in time for kahvaltı.


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