Instant Manual Driving Adventure Funtime!

Or, how I spent more time than I ever would want to in Denizli, Turkey (part one of two).

Thanks to another $75 worth of flights on Turkish Airlines (how are they not losing money with this?) I soon found my way to Denizli via Istanbul.  The city of Denizli is an industrial city focused primarily on textile manufacturing, and the airport ferries in many passengers who are businessmen.  You may be asking yourself, why would anyone want to fly into Denizli, Turkey?  The airport also serves as the closest place to fly to visit a Greek archeological site, the UNESCO-listed Hierapolis/Pamukkale complex.  The Pamukkale part of the complex is an amazing geological feature that involves something called travertines.  The hot alkaline water from geothermic springs dissolves the calcium-containing rock and forms these totally alien-looking pools and other structures.  There aren’t all that many of them on planet earth, but I had visited one earlier in the year in Oaxaca, Mexico, called Hierve el Agua.  It totally flipped my lid!


That would be a HOT spring on the side of a cliff in a perfectly round pool formed by Mother Nature.  Yeah.


Petrified waterfall.  For real!

I heard that Pamukkale was on a MUCH bigger scale so I wanted to see this too.  Hierapolis sounded pretty great, which got me thinking about other archeological finds in Turkey. They are strewn pretty much all about the countryside and I soon came across another one called Aphrodisias.  Since it was a little bit off the main tourist path (one needed to make a LITTLE effort to get there) it wasn’t visited as much.  I read that it was possibly just as large as the famed Ephesus, and maybe in even better condition.  It was just 2-3 hours from the airport on “smoothly paved and well-maintained roads”.  A rarely-visited and pristine site full of statues and abandoned Greek buildings in the Turkish countryside, that was supposedly easy to get to?  Dedicated to Aphrodite?  Being the perpetually single lady I am, I took this as a sign and immediately planned on an expedition to seek her favor.

I had read a lot of conflicting reports on how to get to Aphrodisias; there was supposedly a dolmuş or minibus from Pamukkale (or Denizli.  Again not very clear info online).  Some sites said one had to transfer 2-3 times, some didn’t mention it.  Again I was faced with the problem of time.  Even if everything was pretty straightforward with the transfers, it seemed like it was going to take most of the day to get there, and that was after I got to Pamukkale or Denizli, which were an hour and a half, and 45 minutes respectively from Denizli airport.  When I looked up how much the various shuttles would cost, and reflecting again on my poor Turkish skills, I got an idea.  Why not just rent a car?  It was actually going to be not much more expensive, and I’d be able to make my own schedule and do things more efficiently (famous last words).  I wrote several companies who all quoted me the same price (not great, but manageable) for a car with automatic transmission.  I was sure to mention this, as I don’t know how to drive a manual transmission car.  I mentioned this several times, “The car is automatic transmission, yes?  I do not know how to drive a manual transmission.”  Problem yok, problem yok!

I have now determined hearing the words “Problem yok” is always bad news.

So, after my flights I arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to Denizli Çardak Airport at 8am in the morning.  I was told to look for a guy with my name on a sign.  Super.  No guy-with-a-sign.  Okay, I figured I’d look outside.  Nope.  I wander around.  Try to wander back in when I DO see guy-with-a-sign and am promptly yelled at by security to go through security check again.   Blegh.  They want to know what my little pepper mills are that I picked up in Kapadokya.  Okay, they laugh and then I hurry to meet guy-with-a-sign, who is named Hasan.  Hasan is a very friendly, roly-poly guy with a big black mustache who is all giggles.  He has a glass of tea all ready for me in the rental office.  I think maybe he might belong in Borat.  “America very fancy-place.  Turkey is ok, very nice, you like?”  He shuffles off to get me some more tea despite my protests.  Takes a few minutes.  Comes back and does paperwork, copies my license and debit card.  There’s a small issue with the card apparently (the numbers aren’t raised on it) Hasan but decides it’s not a serious problem.  He gets me more tea, which I assure him I really don’t need, already having had 5 glasses and it not being 9am yet.  He says “Problem yok!” and this takes another little while.  Finally we head out to the beautiful 2012 B-class Mercedes Benz with about 9,000km on it.  Hasan asks me, “You like?  Many trunk space, you put many people, hee hee”.  I am wishing this guy will get out of here quickly.  Then, he sure does- gives me the key and a bottle of Turkish version of Fanta (it’s that beverage benevolence thing again) and walks off to his car.  “You ok?  I go now.  Bye bye!”

At which point I am tired and turn on the ignition and it works and I’m excited and I realize it’s a manual transmission.


Oh boy.

I’m a little shell-shocked at this point and just sit there staring dumbly for a minute.  During this minute Hasan pulls away in his car.  I didn’t really handle this one well, that’s for sure.  Shoot.

At this point I summon my inner David Yang and hope for the best.  Who is David Yang, you may ask?  Well, he’s apparently a big enough deal that he has a wikipedia page (no, seriously, I just checked. It’s  I knew him as one of the other faculty at Temple Music Prep (part of Temple University), where I used to work in Philadelphia.  Hi there!  I haven’t talked to you since then.

Anyhoots, sometime before my genius idea to move to Los Angeles with few contacts and no car I thought maybe getting a scooter would be a good way to get around the city while gigging.  For anyone who has ever been on LA’s highways and experienced LA driving at its finest, hahahahahahahahaha.  Yep, that was a smart one.  Anyway, I wanted to see what I was getting into and asked David about this because I knew he had one.  He very kindly offered to take me for a spin and give me a little lesson.  For some reason I forgot while I was thinking about getting a scooter that I have a tremendous fear of things that are moving at a speed (I’ve been known to get queasy on a bicycle going down hills) and that are not enclosed.  I really tried to be brave as we drove the 2 miles or so from Center City Philadelphia to a side street in West Philly where we could practice.  Practice, on his manual transmission vintage Vespa.  I was a little nervous but again tried not to be a wuss when he mentioned that people get scared, but grandmas in their 70s are whipping around on these things on narrow hillside cobblestone streets in Italy with no problem at all.  I was pretty uncoordinated, as I generally am at things that involve each of my hands doing something different and my foot as well (this is why I play trumpet and not drumset or piano).  We spent about an hour or so and then we both had to split.

THIS is the total experience I had to date with driving stick.  Well, for some reasonless reason, I guessed I’d figure it out.

It took me about 10 minutes to start the thing and figure out how to get it from the parking spot to the exit gate, whereupon I promptly stalled it out in front of the guard.  Strong start.

I managed to get it going again and was on my way.  The airport was quite a ways from Denizli, but according to my map, mostly on a highway.  It was smooth sailing at about 45mph for me, until I got to the first traffic light about a half hour in.  Where I stalled again and took another whole light to get going.  I continued this pattern of stalling out at pretty much every light that I couldn’t slow down until I got the hang of at least coasting/hitting the brakes V-E-R-Y slowly so I wouldn’t have to push it down all the way and inevitably stall again.  This got harder to do as I made my way into Denizli, where I hoped to stop and take advantage of the cheap textiles and buy a gift for this wedding I was going to as soon as I got back to the US.  I found a shopping mall and street with few cars parked.  Perfect!  I coasted and stall-stopped, and went to look around.  I didn’t find the crazy deals though in general it was cheaper than in the US at a lot of the stores.  There was a supermarket, so I picked up a few things to make a picnic once I got to Aphrodisias.  I came out to the car, and realized that someone had in the meantime parked very close behind me.  Oh, did I mention I hadn’t figured out how to go in reverse yet?  I’d just pull out forward, no problem.

As I was running through all this in my head, a couple with a very expensive looking convertible pulled up and parked in front of me.

Problem VAR (There’s a PROBLEM).

I didn’t know what to do.  I sat in the car again and hoped maybe they’d come back.  I waited about 20 minutes.  Gods almighty, they were carrying bags and coming out!  They opened the trunk, put some large bags in, and promptly walked back to the mall.  Shoot.  At this point, with nothing better to do, I recalled some wikitravel entry about Denizli kebab, and decided to try one, while keeping an eye on the car.  I went inside a cafe nearby and ordered one, which was a steal at 2,50 TL and VERY good and not on an evil roll even (get with rice).  The owner wanted to know where I was from, and when I said I was from the US, he got all excited.  “I lived in Michigan one year, I lived there too!  Here’s my driver’s license, see!  Okay, okay, here is library card, and here is gym card, and here is….”  He collected a lot of membership cards in Michigan, which really is the American way.

I eventually was able to sit down and start upon my kebab when I saw them coming back.  “Gotta go!” I yelled, and went back to the car.  I pulled out of the spot, though I don’t even want to describe the next 20 minutes or so it took me to turn around one block and get on the main road in the right direction again.  I eventually managed to get out of the city and on the rather nicely-paved highway to Aphrodisias.  There were signs and everything, and luckily, no traffic.  But then I started to get nervous.  The road went from three lanes, to two, to one, and then I saw a detour sign.  I followed the signs and seemed to be on the right path, and then the road became covered with quite a bit of mud.  And ducks.  And chickens.  And sheep crossings.  Um.

I decided to get gas as I was running a little low and nervous about being stranded there in the middle of Anatolian nowhere.  While I was paying I asked if I was on the right way to Aphrodisias, and the attendant said yes, so I kept going.  The “major highway” which had dwindled into a half-dirt road and wound through a few village-towns eventually did become highway-esque again, and I finally got to the Aphrodisias parking lot around 2pm.

I had made it to Aphrodisias!



2 thoughts on “Instant Manual Driving Adventure Funtime!

  1. Beau

    To get the car in reverse gear, try pushing down on the gear shifter (it should “pop down” when you push on it) while putting it in reverse. Also, make sure you push in the clutch (the far left pedal) when you are coming to a stop, so you don’t stall out. When going forward in first gear, you’ll want to slowly release the clutch pedal as you are pushing on the accelerator pedal . It’s the same with reverse as well. Considering your crash course driving a stick shift was in freaking Turkey in a rented Mercedes, I think you did pretty well (knocked on wood). The trip looks great, and I’m making sure to note all the tricks you’ve used to travel so cheaply. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Beau! One thing I forgot to mention was that that vintage Vespa had the clutch was actually in the hand and not a pedal on the ground. Anyway, yes, I did start to find this stuff out with experimentation. I want to try to learn again someday, but in a calmer and more local setting I think!

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