Edit Blog Post
Published: June 10th 2014
Spent in a promenade cafe overlooking the bridge to Europe and an old fortress.
It is evening. A fingernail moon hangs in the clear sky. We sit at an outside table along the promenade eating spinach pastries and drinking the local salty-yoghurt concoction known as Ayrun. At the cafe next to ours, young girls in diaphanous pastel gowns celebrate their middle-school graduation by dancing to electronic bouzouki music. Before us rolls the dark Bosphorus. Its surface bulges with eddies and the reflections of foam-starred spiral galaxies. Powerful, ancient currents propel water and ships from the Black Sea southward past the Dardanelles to the Marmara Sea. A long suspension bridge slung between Asia and Europe changes color as we watch, from deep sea-blue to lavender to shades of red and white. An old, crenelated, thick-towered fortress lies just across the seaway. We are in Istanbul, Turkey and it is more than we had ever hoped for.
In Chandigarh we caught a flight to Mumbai. A huge, sprawling, sea-side metropolis with soaring apartment buildings at its center that crumble like Grand Canyon mesas into blue, tarp-roofed, corrugated-metal slum shacks at their periphery. The acrid smell of raw sewage permeates the cabin's interior when we land to refuel before our next leg onward to Chennai which is
located in the far southeast corner of India near Sri Lanka. Chennai is peopled by dark-skinned, courteous folks who had us wishing that we had started our Indian adventure there instead of New Delhi. We had now been flying for 5 hours but we weren't finished yet.
Our next 5 hour leg was to Abu Dhabi. I alternated between watching 'Ben Hur' on one channel of my seat-back monitor and a GPS map on the other channel. Row! Ben Hur of Judea, Row! We flew over the Emirates. It was night and high above the clouds we could see a plethora of bright stars. Below us, halogen-bright cities and towns were all connected by brightly illuminated roadways that looked like strings of amber pearls from 35,000 feet. Abu Dhabi is a far-flung affair. A monetized desert. Miles and miles of wide, street-light boulevards with no buildings in sight. It looks like an ambitiously planned Arizona subdivision that lost its financing before actual construction could take place. We landed and spent 10-minutes taxiing to the terminal. There are no jet-ways in Abu. Everyone must take those long accordion-flex buses to the terminal but oh, what a terminal. Free showers and
Sprawling city on the sea fringed with slum dog neighborhoods. We could not believe how extensive the metropolis was nor the gap between the high-rise dwelling rich and the shack bound poor.
WIFI. Great restaurants and television and prayer rooms along with the cleanest public restrooms I have ever encountered on any of my travels. Coming from rustic India; KJ and I were in ecstatic, plumbing culture-shock.
We had 7-hours to kill and we did it with movies and good coffee and tiny worthless naps that killed time but not fatigue. We boarded our last plane at 7 AM. This would be our 19th flight of the trip so far. In Istanbul we cleared customs quickly after we paid our $30 visa on arrival fees (cash only please). Outside the terminal we grabbed a $5 shuttle bus ride to Thaksim Square in the city center. Istanbul is a very modern town. Beautiful residential neighborhoods marbled with wide, flower-filled public parks. Cars everywhere and they are new cars. My first impression of Turkey was; Money. There is a lot of money in-country and it appears to be very well distributed. There is food everywhere which is a good thing because corpulent Turks love to eat. They eat in restaurants and Doner cafes and standing at street carts which deal out breads and cakes and fruit by the bushel. I was now looking
Lonely In Abu Dhabi
No matter where we sat the local Muslims would give us a wide berth unless we smiled at their kids. They really liked that though they wouldn't sit any closer.
forward to the dining portion of our trip.
We had used my Couchsurfer contacts to locate a gentleman who was willing to put Karen and I up for three nights. Whenever I go to an unfamiliar spot I prefer to use Couchsurfing for 2 reasons. Number one it's cheap. Crashing in somebody's guestroom is always the lowest-priced option. More importantly you now have a local to show you the ropes. What to see, what to avoid, how to use public transport, where the best restaurants are and the best sights. Our host this time was a 33-year old computer engineer named Tolga. He lives on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Every person here is identified by their location on the Bosphorus; Asian (east) or European (west). Asian is considered preferable though it takes a little longer to get into town. Fortunately Istanbul has a Cracker-Jack public transport system with beautiful new Mercedes buses, streetcars, subways and ferries. It feels like Seattle but with better traffic and more varied hot beverages. Tolga loaned us a cell phone and a public transport card which can be used on all conveyances from ferries to streetcars. A ferry ride costs 75-cents. Same
Mike, Tolga and KJ
On Asian side of Bosphorus.
for a bus ride. If you look confused, a Turk will immediately come to your assistance and if they cannot speak English they'll get somebody on their cell phone who can but in the end you WILL be helped no matter what, because hospitality is the greatest of all Turkish virtues.
Outside his apartment we watched Tolga's neighbors harvesting white mulberries and bright-red cherries from trees next to his building. Turkey has some of the best fruits I have ever eaten. They can grow anything here except bananas and oranges. Fruit is one of Turkey's biggest exports. Turks are most engaging folks. I ran into an elderly man who had just collected a 3-gallon bucket full of red and yellow cherries. He held the pail out to me and motioned me to help myself so I did. He rattled on in animated Turkish while I responded in English. I told him about my experience picking cherries in the Washington Cascades 23-years ago with Liz and her family and how cute Noah looked in his blue-denim coveralls while walking along the sunny riverside paths and my new Turkish friend responded animatedly about something in his life, gesticulating with wide, worn,
Is filled with ships of all types from container vessels to high-end cruise operations.
red-stained hands. After I had had my fill he shook my hand in both of his, smiled and ambled on home to bake a pie or perhaps, to make a crumble. It's just that nice here.
The next day KJ and I braved the rainy day to go to the old Spice Market and Bazaar. Two mandatory stops on the tourists' trail of tears here. We took the 15SN bus to the Asian ferry terminal. Ferries leave every 15 minutes so waits are minimal. We chugged across the Bosphorus, passing other ferries and docked cruise ships and tug boats and dry goods cargo vessels. There was a 4-masted tall ship in port painted in dazzling white. As we neared our destination we saw the Great Blue Mosque anchored by 4 slender minarets that looked like 60-foot tall, sharpened, number two pencils which made me think of taking the SAT's and that made me sad.
The old bazaar is a high-priced tourist trap. Narrow aisles crowded with westerners who, while at home, can barely throw together a Toaster Strudel are now perusing high quality Iranian Saffron at hundreds of dollars an ounce. Turks love to eat candy so there
KJ On The Ferry; First Day
Best part of our visit to Istanbul were the ferry rides we took across the Bosphourus.
is stall after stall of Turkish delights and hand-made, gelatinous cubes of diabetic-coma inducing sweetness in a rainbow of colors. Outside the main building are stores specializing in brass-ware, carpets and household items. The further you range from the bazaar building the more realistic are the prices of goods so range far and wide my amigos or suffer greatly. Food carts are everywhere. You can purchase a large pretzel-shaped pastry big enough to feed two for a single Lira or fifty-cents. Bathrooms are in short supply but every Mosque offers a very clean public facility to all comers. In separate blue-tiled rooms, Muslim men wash their feet before going inside their Mosques to pray.
Politically; This is a time of great change in Turkey. After purging the old military order, the current leader (with White House support) is re-establishing an Islamic influenced system. Those of a more secular persuasion are being suppressed while black-scarved, gray-garbed women of dour expression run roughshod over Istanbul and endow the city with an atmosphere akin to that of Tehran after the 1979 US Embassy student takeover. Think of it as a reverse 'Arab Spring'. The more secular Istanbulites express their dismay at changes
Approaching the Old City By Ferry
Sixty-cents for a ride up the Bosphorus on the local ferry. The best deal in town.
within Turkey in frequent street demonstrations to the accompaniment of tear gas and water canons. The Turkish media outlets follow in lockstep with the sitting leadership and every newscast here is back-dropped with fluttering, digital, Turkish flags. Our increasingly half-hearted support of the sitting Turkish Prime Minister and our lack of leadership in the Syrian crisis have left a bad taste in the mouths of many Turks. Karen and I hear about it from time to time but only politely. I tell the Turks with whom I speak that most Americans couldn't find Turkey on a map if they had to and that the problem lays primarily within our flip-flopping US policy in the Middle East and not with common American citizens. It's not as if 'We the People' have any real influence in these matters. The Turks would be better off complaining to Goldman Sachs.
Tolga starts showing us around as soon as he gets home from work at 6 PM. We eat this and look at that and go over there and wonder at it all. This ancient city. The gateway to Asia. I look at the Bosphorus and I remember Peter the Hermit's 'People's Crusade' in
Tolga and Friends
Our host with his two buddies. We shared a picnic in a park overlooking the Bosphorus. Talked about every little thing and laughed a great deal. The Turks are a marvelous people to be with.
1096 to retake Jerusalem with his 'Army' of over 80,000 poor, starving, unarmed peasants who crossed the Bosphorus at this spot only to be slaughtered upon reaching the Asian side. The strategic importance of the Bosphorus led Darius of Persia and Xerxes to build huge bridges out of boats to transport their armies across the channel and attack Greece. It is one of the most strategically important bodies of water in the world. Seeking control of it cost the British and ANZAC forces tens of thousands of lives during WW I at Gallipoli. The number of bones and relics laying at the bottom of the Bosphorus are anybody's guess. Today, it is covered in commercial ships and pleasure boats. It's a beautiful spot to sit and ponder our collective histories.
On our last morning here, Tolga packs a picnic and takes us to a flower-strewn public park overlooking Istanbul. We are joined by two of his friends. Good guys who want to hear all about Karen's and my travels. What we liked. What we hated and what we think of Turkey today. I haven't put it all together yet but this I know; We will be coming back here.
Karen sticks out in this fundamentalist Islamic area where scarves are de rigueur.
BIG shout out to Chris Smith for super long-distance help with the last creepy vestiges of India. I owe you big Chris. Winner of the 'guess where we're going' contest is Raquel who is now entitled to a flimsy; it'll break the first time you use it, souvenir. To John M.: I love you John. To Tolga: I cannot express our appreciation for all you did for us in words my new friend. To Reed and Stace; Getting any sleep yet? To Karlie: You need to see Canakkale. 7 hour bus ride from Istanbul and worth it. What a town! To everybody back in Bradenton; How's the A/C holding up? To John and Kelly; What are you feeding that cat?!
We are in Gallipoli now and loving it. What a marvelous place. We had planned on 3 days here but are now extending indefinitely. It is THAT nice. Plus they have the Trojan Horse that Brad Pitt rode around in down here. How can you not like that?
Tot: 2.849s; Tpl: 0.101s; cc: 16; qc: 78; dbt: 0.1162s; 2; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb