Edirne, shmedirne

Every time I plan to meet Dara in Edirne, I always wonder why I don’t go more often.  It’s a beautiful ancient city with a European feel; its pedestrian focused in a way that I have not seen elsewhere in Turkey, and its a great place to stroll on a warm, sunny day. It served as a major trading post throughout much of history and even served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire from 1365 to 1453 while the emperors lay siege to the fortified Constantinople. It’s only about 120km (75miles) from Tekirdağ, and has become a happy meeting spot for my friend Dara and I. Dara is unfortunately placed in the city of Kirklareli, once called Kirkkilesi meaning “Forty Churches”, today there are no churches to speak of and come to think of it, there is really nothing to speak of when it comes to Kirklareli.

So why don’t we go more often?

I get to the bus station, and I’m reminded.

There is no bus, exactly to Edirne, there is a minivan with a pockmarked windshield riding on about 200,000 miles, spitting fumes from an empty gas tank. But, this is Turkey, and I should be used to it.

Maalesef, I am not.

See the minivan to the right? Yes, that's the one I'm talking about.

I arrived at the station at 9am to find that no; the busses no longer run at quarter past the hour, now they run at quarter ‘til. Well, there goes our 11 am meeting time. At about 9:50 the attendant motions for me to follow him. We exit the bus station and go around a corner where the minivan is idling. I climb into the passenger’s seat and we head up through the gypsy village to a part of the city I see only when going to Edirne.

The driver parks the car.

10 minutes later more passengers pile in. There is a bit of discussion, followed by a heated negotiation over who has to sit on the wooden stool.

Yes, the wooden stool. Next to the sliding door are two seats, with three in the back. But, the enterprising drivers decided to increase profits by adding a seat in the empty space next to the door. I think of the wooden stool as a jump seat, or, in the case of an accident, the ejection seat.

I’m in the front seat, well fastened in.

At 10:10 we’re off.

Now, if you’ve ever gone off a major highway in Turkey, you don’t need an explanation of a Turkish country road, but since most of you haven’t, here it is.

Think of the last time you drove down a country road in the mountains during the spring thaw, the gravel everywhere, potholes that could swallow up the family sedan, random bits of nature scattered along your way, the lack of legitimate speed limit, the feeling of the one-lane highway. Lunatics come veering around corners, bombing down hills passing you at two, sometimes three times the speed limit as you swerve to miss the upcoming pothole.

Now imagine that in a minivan, throw in tractors, feral dogs, the occasional horse and carriage, and eliminate any streetlights or signage.

Welcome to Thrace.

About halfway there, the driver and only remaining passenger decided to inquire about my obvious non-Turkishness. “Nerelesin,  kızım” or Where are you from, my daughter? After explaining who I am and why (oh why) I live in Tekirdağ, they decided that since I don’t have a Turkish family dedicated to teaching me the language, they should spend the remaining 45 minutes beefing up my skills. When we arrive in Edirne, the driver tells me that he will not be going to the city center, but he is clearly worried that I will not find my way on my own. Already an hour and a quarter late, I’m more than miffed.

Then he sees the servis bus.

The servis is a free shuttle that companies run from the (typically) isolated bus stations to the city center or other popular destinations. The driver speed up, swerving and honking the horn as he rolls down the window and waves at the servis’ driver. When this doesn’t work, he flashes his lights and waves a handkerchief out the window, but to no avail. While debating what to do, the servis pulls over to let some passengers off, we too swerve to the side of the road, come to a lurching halt where the driver looks at me incredulously, “Koş kızım koş!” Run my daughter, run! So, I jump out of the van and sneak onto the servis through the door at the back.

Oh, if it were only so simple.

About three minutes later the driver pulls over, stating that this is the last stop. I get out, look around and see only giant TOKİ housing developments. I follow the crowd down a large boulevard hoping it’s the right direction. I call Dara to give her an update, explaining I haven’t a clue where I am and will ask directions once I find someone who is not a teenage boy (very suspicious creatures), who is not a tayze (I can’t understand their Turkish and their cheek-pinches are painful), and who is not a gypsy (since they are rarely useful to tourists.) As I hang up the phone I accidentally press down on the red end-call/turn-off button a split second too long.

My phone turns off.

As I have mentioned before, European phones have a security measure that requires a PIN code when you turn them on. I don’t know my PIN and I had not brought my wallet containing the PIN card with me.

I am effectively phoneless.

I show up at Mado, our meeting place, about an hour and a half late. And… Dara is nowhere to be found. I sit for about a half hour when I hatch the idea to beg Turkcell to unlock my phone. I pull over a waiter and explain to him in my pidgin Turkish that I, Turkcell’e gidiyorum. Ama arkadaşim, bir küçük, kısa yabancı…uhhh… gidiyor. O kahvalti [expletive] kahverengi saçli.Ben iki saat geç kaldim. Uhhh… tell her to uhhh… Beklen. After some more pantomime he understood that he should tell my friend with breakfasty brown hair who is foreign to wait. Okay.

I go into Turkcell with tears welling up in my eyes. Please, I ask, please oh please will you help me. My phone is broken. I don’t have the PIN, but I must talk to a friend. 30 seconds later, my phone is unlocked, “Başka bir şey yok?” That’s all? She asks, raising a suspicious eyebrow.

At about 1pm I call Dara, who is waiting outside the Turkcell store looking for me.

Oh, yeah, this is why I don’t go to Edirne.

Trakyan Chickens at Edirne's Cuma Pazarı

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